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Three mistak of my life
 

Three mistak of my life

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Three mistak of my life

Three mistak of my life

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    Three mistak of my life Three mistak of my life Document Transcript

    • Three mistake of mylife My readers, you that is, to whom I owe all my success and motivation. Mylife belongs to you now, and serving you is the most meaningful thing I can do with mylife. I want to share something with you. I am very ambitious in my writing goals.However, I don't want to be India's most admired writer. I just want to be India'smost loved writer. Admiration passes, love endures. To Shinie Antony, a friend who has been with me all these years and whocritically reviews my work and ensures that it is fit for my reader's consumption. Myfamily, which continues to support me in all my ventures. Specially, my brother KetanBhagat for his critical feedback from Sydney and cricket freak brother-in-law AnandSuryanaryan who told me more about cricket than anyone else would have. The people of Gujarat, in particular Ahmedabad, where I spent some of the most wonderful and formative years of my life. My publishers Rupa and Co, who have fulfilled all my dreams and continue to pursue the goal of making India read. My friends in the film industry, who have given me a new platform to tell mystories from, and who teach me new things everyday, in particular Atul Agnihotri, RajuHirani, Alvira Khan, Sharman Joshi, Vipul Shah, Imtiaz Ali, Shirish Kunder, Farah Khan andSalman Khan. The Madras Players and Evam Theatre Group, who turned my stories into wonderful plays.My friends in the media, especially those who have understood my intentions for my country and are with me. My colleagues at Deutsche Bank, my friends in Mumbai and Hong Kong. God, who continues to look after me despite my flaws.
    • Prologue It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and get an email like this: From: Ahd_businessman@gmail.com Sent: 12/28/2005 11.40 p.m. To: info@chetanbhagat.com Subject: A final note Dear Chetan This email is a combined suicide note and a confession letter. I have let people downand have no reason to live. You don't know me. I'm an ordinary boy in Ahmedabad whoread your books. And somehow I felt I could write to you after that. I can't really tellanyone what I am doing to myself - which is taking a sleeping pill everytime I end asentence - so I thought I would tell you. I kept my coffee cup down and counted. Five full stops already I m a d e t h r e e m i st ak e s ; I d o n' t wa n t t o g o i n t o d et a i l s . My suicide is not a sentimental decision. As many around me know, I am agood businessman because I have little emotion. This is no knee-jerk reaction. Iwaited over three years, watched Ish's silent face everyday. But after he refused myoffer yesterday, I had no choice left. I have no regrets either. Maybe I'd have wanted to talk to Vidya once more but that doesn't seem like such a good idea right now. Sorry to bother you with this. But I felt like I had to tell someone. You have ways to improve as an author but you do write decent books. Have a nice weekend. Regards Businessman – 17, 18, 19. Somewhere, in Ahmedabad a young 'ordinary' boy had poppednineteen sleeping pills while typing out a mail to me. Yet, he expected me to have anice weekend. The coffee refused to go down my throat. I broke into a cold sweat. ‘One, you wake up late. Two, you plant yourself in front of the computer first thing in the morning. Are you even aware that you have a family?' Anusha said. In case it isn't obvious enough from the authoritative tone, Anusha is my wife. I had promised to go furniture shopping with her– a promise that was made ten weekends ago. She took my coffee mug away and jiggled the back of my chair.‘We need dining chairs. Hey, you look worried?’ she said. I pointed to the monitor.
    • `Businessman?' she said as she finished reading the mail. She looked pretty shaken up too. And it is from Ahmedabad,' I said, 'that is all we know.' `You sure this isreal?' she said, a quiver in her voice. `This is not spam,' I said. `It is addressed tome.' My wife pulled a stool to sit down. I guess we really did need write extra chairs. `Think,' she said. `We've got to let someone know. His parents maybe.' `How? I don't know where the hell it came from,' I said. And who do we know in Ahmedabad?' `We met in Ahmedabad, remember?' Anusha said. A pointless statement, I thought. Yes, we'd been classmates at IIM-A years ago.‘ So?’ `Call the institute. Prof Basant or someone,' she sniffed and left the room. 'Oh no, the daal is burning.' There are advantages in having a wife smarter than you. I could never be a detective. I searched the institute numbers on the Internet and called. An operatorconnected me to Prof Basant's residence. I checked the time, 10.00 a.m. in Singapore,7.30 a.m. in India. It is a bad idea to mess with a prof early in the morning. `Hello?' a sleepy voice answered. Had to be the prof. `Prof Basant, Hi. This is Chetan Bhagat calling. Your old student, remember?' `Who?' he said with a clear lack of curiosity in his voice. Bad start. I told him about the course he took for us, and how we had voted him the friendliest professor in the campus. Flattery didn't help much either. 'Oh that Chetan Bhagat,' he said, like he knew a million of them. You are a writer now, no?' 'Yes sir,' I said, 'that one.' 'So why are you writing books?' 'Tough question, sir,' I stalled. 'Ok, a simple one. Why are you calling me so early on a Saturday?' I told him why and forwarded the email to him. 'No name, eh?' he said as he read the mail. 'He could be in a hospital somewhere in Ahmedabad. He would have just
    • checked in. Maybe he is dead. Or maybe he is at home and this was a hoax,' I said. I was blabbering. I wanted help– for the boy and me. The prof had asked a good question. Why the hell did I write books– to get into this? 'We can check hospitals,' Prof said. 'I can ask a few students. But a namesurely helps. Hey wait, this boy has a Gmail account, maybe he is on Orkut aswell.''Or-what?' Life is tough when you are always talking to people smarter than you. 'You are so out of touch, Chetan. Orkut is a networking site. Gmail users sign up there. If he is a member and we are lucky, we can check his profile.' I heard him clicking keys and sat before my own PC. I had just reached theOrkut site when Prof Basant exclaimed, 'Aha, Ahmedabad Businessman. There is abrief profile here. The name only says G. Patel. Interests are cricket, business,mathematics and friends. Doesn't seem like he uses Orkut much though.' 'What are you talking about Prof Basant? I woke up to a suicide note,written exclusively to me. Now you are telling me about his hobbies. Can youhelp me or...' A pause, then, 'I will get some students. We will search for a new youngpatient called G. Patel, suspected of sleeping pill overdose. We will call you if wefind anything, ok? 'Yes, sir,' I said, breathing properly after a long time. 'And how is Anusha? You guys bunked my classes for dates and flow forget me.' 'She is fine, sir.' 'Good, I always felt she was smarter than you. Anyway, let's find your boy,' the prof said and hung up. Besides furniture shopping, I had to finish an office presentation. My boss,Michel's boss was due from New York. Hoping to impress him Michel asked meto make a presentation of the group, with fifty charts. For three consecutivenights last week I had worked until 1:00 a.m., but had gotten only halfway. 'This is a suggestion. Don't take it the wrong way. But do consider taking a bath,' my wife said. I looked at her.
    • 'Just an option,' she said. I think she is overcautious sometimes. I don't bite back. 'Yes, yes. I will,' I said and stared at the computer again. Thoughts darted through my head. Should I call some hospitals myself?What if Prof Basant dozed off again? What if he could not collect thestudents? What if G. Patel was dead? And why am I becoming so involvedhere?I took a reluctant shower. I opened the office presentation, but found myself unable to type a single word. I refused breakfast, though regretted it moments later– as hunger and anxiety did not go well together. My phone rang at 1.33 p.m. `Hello,' Prof Basant's voice was unmistakable. 'We have a match at Civil Hospital.His name is Govind Patel, twenty-five years of age. A second-year student of minefound him.' ‘And?' ‘And he is alive. But won't talk. Even to his family. Must be in shock.’ ‘What are the doctors saying?’ I said. 'Nothing. It is a government hospital. What do you expect? Anyway, they willflush his stomach and send him home. I won't worry too much now. Will ask a studentto check again in the evening.' 'But what is his story? What happened?' All that I don't know. Listen, don't get too involved. India is a big country.These things happen all the time. The more you probe, the more the chances of thepolice harassing you.' Next, I called the Civil Hospital. However, the operator did not know about the case and there was no facility to transfer the line to the ward either. Anusha, too, was relieved that the boy was safe. She then announced the plan for the day– the dining chair hunt. It would begin at Ikea on Alexandra Road. We reached Ikea at around three o'clock and browsed through the spacesavingdining sets. One dining table could fold four times over and become a coffee table–pretty neat. 'I want to know what happened to the twenty-five-year-old businessman,' I muttered. 'You will find out eventually. Let him recover. Must be one of those crazy reasons of youth– rejection in love, low marks or drugs.' I stayed silent. 'C'mon, he just emailed you. Your ID is on your book cover. You really don't need
    • to get involved. Should we take six or eight?' She moved towards an oakwood set. I protested that we rarely had so many guests at home. Six chairs would be enough. 'The marginal capacity utilisation of the two chairs would be less than ten per cent,' I said. 'You men are least helpful,' she tossed back and then selected six chairs. My mind strayed back to the businessman. Yes, everyone was right. I shouldn't get involved. But yet, of all the people in the world, this boy had sent me his last words. I couldn't help but get involved. We ate lunch in the food court next to Ikea. 'I have to go,' I told my wife as I played with my lemon rice. 'Where? To the office. Ok, you are a free man now. I did my shopping,' my wife said. 'No. I want to go to Ahmedabad. I want to meet Govind Patel.' I did not meet her eye. Maybe I was sounding crazy. ‘Are you nuts?’ I think it is only in my generation that Indian women started slamming their husbands. 'My mind keeps going back,' I said. 'What about your presentation? Michel will kill you.' 'I know. He won't get promoted unless he impresses his boss.' My wifelooked at me. My face was argument enough. She knew I would not talk sense until Ihad met the boy. 'Well, there is only one direct flight at 6 p.m. today. You can check the tickets.' She dialled the Singapore Airlines number and handed me the phone. I entered the room the nurses had led me to. The eerie silence and thedarkness made my footsteps sound loud. Ten different instruments beeped and LEDlights flickered at regular intervals. Cables from the instruments disappeared intothe man I had travelled thousands of miles to see– Govind Patel. I noticed the curly hair first. He had a wheatish complexion and bushy eyebrows. His thin lips had turned dry because of the medicines. `Hi, Chetan Bhagat ... the writer you wrote to,' I said, unsure if he could place me. `O ... How did ... you find me?' he said, finding it difficult to speak. `Destined to, I guess,' I said. I shook hands and sat down. His mother came into the room. She looked sosleep-deprived, she could use a sleeping pill herself. I greeted her as she went out toget tea.
    • I looked at the boy again. I had two instant urges– one, to ask him what happened and two, to slap him. `Don't look at me like that,' he said, shifting in his bed, 'you must be angry. Sorry, I should not have written that mail.' ‘Forget the mail. You should not have done what you did.' He sighed. He took a hard look at me and then turned his gaze sideways. `I have no regrets,' he said. `Shut up. There is nothing heroic in this. Cowards pop pills.' `You would have done the same, if you were in my place.' `Why? What happened to you?' `It doesn't matter! We fell silent as his mother returned with tea. A nurse came in and told his mother to go home, but she refused to budge. Finally, the doctor had to intervene. She left at 11.30 p.m. I stayed in the room, promising the doctor I would leave soon. `So, tell me your story,' I said, once we were alone. `Why? What can you do about it? You can't change what happened,' he said tiredly. `You don't just listen to stories to change the past. Sometimes, it is important to know what happened.' `I am a businessman. To me, people only do things out of self-interest. What's in it for you? And why should I waste my time telling you anything?' I stared at the soft-skinned face that hid such hardness inside. `Because I will want to tell others,' I said. There, that was my incentive. And why would anyone care? My story is not trendy or sexy like the IITs and call centres.' He removed the quilt covering his chest. The heater and our conversation kept the room warm. `I think they will care,' I said, 'a young person tried to kill himself. That does not seem right.' `No one gives a fuck about me.' I tried, but found it difficult to be patient. I considered slapping him again. A nurse came peeking into the room on hearing my loud voice. We became quiet. The clock showed midnight. He sat there stunned. Everyone had behaved nicely with him today. I stood up and turned away from him. ‘I know what a friend is,' he said at last.
    • I sat down next to him. ‘I do know what a friend is. Because I had two, the best ones in the world.' One part India vs South Africa 4th ODI, Vadodra 17 March 2000 Over 45 `Why the fuck did you have to move?' Ishaan's scream drowned out the stadium din on the TV. I had shifted up to a sofa from the floor. —`Tendulkar's gone. Fuck, now atth is stage. Omi, don't you dare move now. Nobody moves for the next five overs.' Over 46 'You don't know this team. Tendulkar goes, they panic. It isn't about the average. It is like the queen bee is dead, and the hive loses order,' Ishaan said. Omi nodded, as he normally does to whatever Ishaan has to say about cricket. 'Anyway, I hope you realise, we didn't meet today to see this match. We have to decide what Mr Ishaan is doing about his future, right?' I said. However, today I had a plan. I needed to sit them down to talk about our lives. Of course, against cricket, life is second priority. 'Later,' Ishaan said, staring avidly at a pimple cream commercial. 'Later when Ishaan? I have an idea that works for all of us. We don't have a lot of choice, do we?' 'All of us? Me, too?' Omi quizzed, already excited. Idiots like him love to be part of something, anything. However, this time we needed Omi. 'Yes, you play a critical role Omi. But later when Ish? When?' 'Oh, stop it! Look, the match is starting. Ok, over dinner. Let's go to Gopi,' Ish said. 'Gopi? Who's paying?' I was interrupted as the match began. Beep, beep, beep. The horn of a car broke our conversation. A car zoomed outside the pol. 'What the hell! I am going to teach this bastard a lesson,' Ish said, looking out the window. 'What's up?' 'Bloody son of a rich dad. Comes and circles around our house everyday' 'Why?' I said. 'For Vidya. He used to be in coaching classes with her. She complained about him there too,' Ish said. Beep, beep, beep, the car came near the house again. 'Excuse me, your headlight is hanging out.' 'Really?' the boy said and shut off the ignition. He stepped outside and came to the front. 'What's your problem,' the boy said, blood spurting out of his nose. 'You tell me what's up? You like pressing horns?' Ish said. The boy shivered in pain and fear. What would he tell his daddy about his broken car and face? Ish's dad heard the commotion and came out of the house. Ish held the boy in with his knee and released him. The boy kneeled on the floor and sucked in air.
    • The last kick from Ish had smeared the blood from his nose across his face. 'And what do you think you are doing?' Ish's dad asked him. 'Teaching him a lesson,' Ish said and unhooked his bat stuck in the windscreen. 'Really, when will you learn your lessons?' Ish's dad said to him. Ish turned away. 'You go now,' Ish's dad said to the beeping driver, who folded his hands. Seeing that no one cared about his apology, he trudged back to his car. Ish's dad turned to his neighbours. 'For one whole year he's been sitting athome. Ran away from the army of his own country and then wants to teachlessons to others! He and his loafer friends hanging around the house all daylong.' One sidelong glance at his dad and Ish walked back home. the hell are you going now?' Ish's dad said. 'Match. Why? You want to curse me some more?' Ish said. 'When you've wasted your entire life, what's another day?' Ish's father said and the neighbours half-nodded their heads in sympathy. We missed the final five overs of the match. Luckily, India won and Ish didn't get that upset. 'Yes, yes, yes,' Ishaan jumped. 'Gopi on me tonight.' I love idiots. Actually, Ishaan is not an idiot. At least not as much as Omi. It is just thatboth of them suck at studies, especially maths, and I am good at it. Hence, I havethis chip on my shoulder. It does sound a bit conceited, but it is the only chip onmy shoulder. For instance, I am easily the poorest of the three (though I will bethe richest one day), even though Ishaan and Omi aren't particularly wealthy.Ishaan's dad works in the telephone exchange, and while they have lots of phonesin the house, the salary is modest. Omi's dad is the priest of the Swamibhaktitemple, which actually belongs to Omi's mom's family for generations. And thatdoes not pay well either. But still, they are a lot better off than me and my mom.My mom runs a small Gujarati snacks business, and the little bit of money Imake from tuitions helps us get by, but that's about it. 'We won, we won the series 3-1,' Omi repeated what he read on the TV screen.Of course, it would have been too much for him to express such original insight.Some say Omi was born stupid, while some say he became stupid after a corkball hit him on the head in Class VI. I didn't know the reason, but I did know thatmaybe the best idea for him would be to become a priest. He wouldn't have muchof a career otherwise, given that he barely scraped through Class XII, afterrepeating the maths compartment exam twice. But he didn't want to be a priest,so my plan was the best one. I ate the khakra. My mother made it better than Ishaan's mom. We were professionals after all.
    • 'I'll go home to change and then we will go to Gopi, ok?' I said as Ishaan andOmi were still dancing. Dancing after an Indian victory was a ritual we hadstarted when we were eleven, one that should have stopped by thirteen. However,here we were at twenty-one, jigging like juveniles. Ok, so we won, someone hadto. In mathematical terms, there was good probability - did it really needjumping around? I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed by the Nana Park, extra packed with kids playingcricket as India had won the match. I played here almost every day of my school life. We still come here sometimes, but now we prefer the abandoned bank branch compound near my home. A tennis ball landed at my feet. A sweaty twelve-year-old boy came running tome. I picked up the ball for him. Nana Park is where I had first met Ishaan andOmi, over fifteen years ago. There was no dramatic moment that marked the startof our friendship. Maybe we sized each other up as the only six-year-olds in theground and started playing together. Like most neighbourhood kids, we went to the Belrampur Municipal School,hundred metres down Nana Park. Of course, only I studied while Ish and Omi ranto the park at every opportunity. Three bicycles tried to overtake each other in the narrow by lane. I had to stepinside Qazi restaurant to let them pass. A scent of fried coriander and garlic filledthe narrow room. The cook prepared dinner, a bigger feast than usual as Indiahad won the match. Ishaan and I came here sometimes (without telling Omi, ofcourse) for the cheap food and extraordinary mutton. The owner assured us'small mutton', implying goat and not beef. I believed him, as he would not havesurvived in the neighbourhood if he served beef. I wanted to eat here instead ofGopi. But we had promised Gopi to Omi, and the food was fantastic there as well.Food is a passion here, especially as Gujarat is a dry state. People here get drunkon food.
    • Yes, Ahmedabad is my city. It is strange, but if you have had happy times in acity for a long time, you consider it the best city in the world. I feel the sameabout Ahmedabad. I know it is not one of those hip cities like Delhi, Bombay orBangalore. I know people in these cities think of Ahmedabad as a small town,though that is not really the case. Ahmedabad is the sixth largest city in India,with a population of over five million. But I guess if you have to emphasise theimportance of something, then it probably isn't as important in the first place. Icould tell you that Ahmedabad has better multiplexes than Delhi or nicer roadsthan Bombay or better restaurants than Bangalore - but you will not believe me.Or even if you do, you won't give a damn. I know Belrampur is not Bandra, butwhy should I defend being called a smalltown-person as if it is a bad thing? Afunny thing about small towns is that people say it is the real India. I guess theydo acknowledge that at one level the India of the big cities is fake. Yes, I am fromthe old city of Amdavad and proud of it. We don't have as many fashion showsand we still like our women to wear clothes. I don't see anything wrong with that. I stepped out of Qazi and continued my way home, turning in the pol towardsOmi's temple. Of course, we called it Omi's temple because he lived there, but theofficial name was the Swamibhakti temple. As I entered the by lane, two peoplefought over garbage disposal around the crammed pol. There are things about my small town neighbourhood that I want to change. Insome ways, it is way behind the rest of Ahmedabad. For one, the whole old citycould be a lot cleaner. The new city across the other side of the Sabarmati riverhas gleaming glass and steel buildings, while the old city finds it difficult to getrubbish cleared on time. I want to change another thing. I want to stop the gossip theories people comeup with about other people. Like the theory about Omi becoming stupid Because a cricket ball hit him. There is no basis for it, but every pol in Belrampur talksabout it. Or the theory that Ish was thrown out of NDA and did not run away. Iknow for a fact that it is not true. Ish cannot handle unquestioned authority, andeven though he was really excited about the army (which was his only option), hecould not stand some Major ordering him around for the next two decades of hislife. So he paid the penalty, cited personal reasons like ailing parents orsomething and ran right back to Belrampur. And of course, what I want to stop the most - the weirdest theory that I becameemotionless the day dad left us. Dad left mom and me over ten years ago, for wefound out he had a second wife across town. As far as I can remember, I wasnever good with emotional stuff. I love maths, I love logic and those subjects haveno place for emotion. I think human beings waste too much time on emotions.The prime example is my mother. Dad's departure was followed by months ofcrying with every lady in every pol coming down to sympathise with her. Shespent another year consulting astrologers as to which planet caused dad to moveout, and when would that position change. Thereafter, a string of grandauntscame to live with her as she could not bring herself to stay alone. It wasn't until Iturned fifteen and understood how the world worked that I could coax her intoopening the snacks business. Of course, my coaxing was part of it, the rest of itwas that all her jewellery was officially sold by then.
    • Her snacks were great, but she was no businessman. Emotional people maketerrible businessmen. She would sell on credit and buy on cash - the firstmistake a small business can make. Next, she would keep no accounts. Thehome spending money was often mixed with the business money, and wefrequently had months where the choice was to buy either rice for ourconsumption or black pepper for the papads. Meanwhile, I studied as much as I could. Our school was not Oxford, andemphasis on studies was low with more teachers bunking classes than students.Still, I topped maths every single year. People thought I was gifted when I hit ahundred in maths in class X. For me, it was no big deal. For once, the gossip vinehelped. The news of my score spread across pols, and we had a new source ofincome - tuitions. I was the only maths tutor in Belrampur, and bad mathsscores had reached epidemic proportions. Along with khaman and khakra,trigonometry and algebra became sources of income in the Patel household. Ofcourse, it was a poor neighbourhood, so people could not pay much. Still, anotherthousand bucks a month was a lifestyle changing event for us. From fan, wegraduated to cooler. From chairs, we went to a secondhand sofa. Life becamegood. I reached Omi's temple. The loud rhythmic chime of the bell interrupted mythoughts. I checked my watch, it was 6 p.m., the daily aarti time. I saw Omi's dadfrom a distance, his eyes closed as he chanted the mantras. Even though I wasan agnostic, there was something amazing about his face - it had genuine feelingfor the God he prayed to. No wonder he was among the most liked people in thecommunity. Omi's mother was beside him, her maroon saree draped along herhead and hands folded. Next to her was Bittoo Mama, Omi's maternal uncle. Hewas dressed in a white dhoti and saffron scarf. His huge biceps seemed evenlarger with his folded hands. His eyes, too, were transfixed in genuine admirationfor the idols of Krishna and Radha. Omi would get into trouble for reaching the aarti late. It would not be the first time though, as matches in Nana Park were at a crucial stage around 6 p.m. 'How was the match?' mom said as I reached home. She stood outside the house. She had just finished loading a hired auto with fresh dhokla for a marriageparty. Finally, my mother could delegate routine tasks like delivery and focus onher core competence - cooking. She took out a dhokla piece from the auto for me.Bad business - snucking out something from a customer order. 'Great match. Nail-biting finish, we won,' I said, walking in. I switched on the tubelight inside. The homes in our pol required light even during daytime. 'If I have a good Diwali season, I will get you a colour TV,' mom vowed. 'No need,' I said. I removed my shoes to get ready for a shower, 'you need a bigger grinder urgently, the small one is all wobbly' 'I will buy the TV if only the business makes extra money,' she said. 'No. If you make extra money, put it back in the business. Don't buy useless things. I can always see the match in colour in Ishaan's house.' She left the room. My mother knew it was futile arguing with me. Without dadaround, it was amazing how much say I had in the house. And I only hoped Ishand Omi would listen to my proposition as well.
    • My love for business began when I first started tuitions. It was amazing to seemoney build up. With money came not only things like coolers and sofas but alsothe most important stuff - respect. Shopkeepers no longer avoided us, relatives re-invited us to weddings and our landlord's visit did not throw us into turmoil. Andthen there was the thrill - I wasmak ing money, not earning it under some boss orgetting a handout. I could decide my fate, how many students to teach, how manyhours per class - it wasmy decision. There is something about Gujaratis, we love business. And Ambadadis love itmore than anything else. Gujarat is the only state in India where people tend torespect you more if you have a business than if you are in service. The rest of thecountry dreams about a cushy job that gives a steady salary and providesstability. In Ahmedabad, service is for the weak. That was why I dreamt mybiggest dream - to be a big businessman one day. The only hitch was my lack ofcapital. But I would build it slowly and make my dream come true. Sure, Ishcould not make his dream of being in the Indian cricket team real, but that was astupid dream to begin with. To be in the top eleven of a country of a billion peoplewas in many ways an impossible dream, and even though Ish was top class inBelrampur, he was no Tendulkar. My dream was more realistic, I would startslow and then grow my business. From a turnover of thousands, to lakhs, tocrores and then to hundreds of crores. I came out of the shower and dressed again. "Want to eat anything?' my mother voiced her most quoted line from the kitchen. 'No, I am going out with Ish and Omi to Gopi.' 'Gopi? Why? I make the same things. What do you get at Gopi that I can't give you at home?' Peace and quiet, I wanted to say. 'It's Ish's treat. And I want to talk to them about my new business.'
    • 'So you are not repeating the engineering entrance,' my mother came out of thekitchen. She raised dough-covered hands, 'You can take a year to prepare. Stoptaking tuitions for a while, we have money now.' My mother felt guilty about a million thingsOne of them was me not making itto a good engineering college. Tuitions and supporting my mom's business meantI could study less for the entrance exams. I didn't make it to IIT or any of the topinstitutes. I did make it to a far-flung college in Kutch, but it wasn't worth it to leave my tuition income, friends, cricket at Nana Park and mom for that.Not that I felt any emotion, it just did not seem like the right trade. I could domaths honours right here in Amdavad University, continue tuitions and thinkabout business. The Kutch college did not even guarantee a job. 'I don't want to be an engineer, mom. My heart is in business. Plus, I have already done two years of college. One more and I will be a graduate.' 'Yes, but who gives a job to a maths graduate?' It was true. Maths honours was a stupid course to take from an economic point of view. 'It is ok. I needed a degree and I can get it without studying much,' I said. 'I am a businessman, mom. I can't change that.' My mother pulled my cheeks. Chunks of dough stuck to my face. 'Be whatever. You are always my son first.' She hugged me. I hated it. I hate a display of emotion more than emotion itself. 'I better go.'  That is your tenth chapatti,' Ish told Omi. 'Ninth. Who cares? It is a buffet. Can you pass the ghee please?' 'All that food. It has to be bad for you,' Ish said. 'Two hundred push-ups.' Omi said. 'Ten rounds of Nana Park. One hour atBittoo Mama's home gym. You do this everyday like me and you can hog withoutworry.' People like Omi are no-profit customers. There is no way Gopi could make money off him. 'Aamras, and ras malai. Thanks,' Omi said to the waiter. Ish and I nodded for the same. 'So, what's up? I'm listening,' Ish said as he scooped up the last spoon of aamras. 'Eat your food first. We'll talk over tea,' I said. People argued less on a full stomach. 'I am not paying for tea. My treat is limited to a thali,' Ishaan protested. 'I'll pay for the tea,' I said. 'Relax, man. I was only joking. Mr Accounts can't even take a joke. Right, Omi?'
    • Omi laughed. 'Whatever. Guys, you really need to listen today. And stop calling me Mr Accounts.' I ordered tea while the waiter cleared our plates. I am serious, Ish. What do you plan to do with your life? We are not kids anymore,' I said. 'Unfortunately,' Ish said and sighed. 'Ok, then. I will apply for jobs, maybe doan NIIT computer course first. Or should I take an insurance job? What do youthink?' I saw Ish's face. He tried to smile, but I saw the pain. The champion batsmanof Belrampur would become an insurance salesman. Belrampur kids had grownup applauding his boundaries at Nana Park. But now, when he had no life ahead,he wanted to insure other people's lives. Omi looked at me, hoping I'd come up with a great option from Santa's goodie bag. I was sick of parenting them. 'I want to start a business,' I began. 'Not again,' Ish said. 'I can't do that man. What was it the last time? A fruitdealership? Ugh! I can't be weighing watermelons all day. And the crazy one afterthat, Omi?' 'Car accessories. He said there is big money in that,' Omi said as he slurped his dessert. 'What? Put seat covers all day. No thanks. And the other one - stock broker. What is that anyway?' Ish shrugged. 'So what the fuck do you want to do? Beg people to buy insurance? Or sellcredit cards at street corners? You, Ish, are a military school dropout,' I said andpaused for breath. 'And you got a compartment in Class XII, twice. You can be apriest, Omi, but what about us?' I don't want to be a priest,' Omi said listlessly. 'Then, why do you oppose me even before I start? This time I have something that will interest you.' 'What?' Ish said. 'Cricket,' I said. 'What?' both of them said in unison. 'There you go, nice to get your attention. Now can I talk?' 'Sure,' Ish waved a hand. 'We are going to open a cricket shop,' I said. I deliberately left for the rest room. 'But how?' Omi interrogated when I returned. 'What is a cricket shop?' 'A sports store really. But since cricket is the most popular game in Belrampur, we will focus on that.' Ish's silence meant he was listening to me.
    • 'It will be a small retail store. Money for a shop deposit is a problem, so I need Omi's help.' 'Mine?' Omi said. 'Yes, we will open the shop right inside the Swami temple complex. Next to theflower and puja shops. 1 noticed an empty shop there. And it is part of the templeland.' 'A cricket shop in a temple complex?' Ish questioned. 'Wait. Omi, do you think you can arrange that? Without that our plan is«a nonstarter.' 'You mean the Kuber sweet shop that just closed? The temple trust will rent itout soon. And normally they let it out to something related to temple activities,'Omi said. 'I know. But you have to convince your dad. After all he runs the temple trust.' 'He does, but Mama looks after the shops. Will we pay rent?' 'Yes,' I sighed. 'But not immediately. We need a two-month waiver. And we cannot pay the deposit.' 'I'll have to go through mom,' Omi said. Good, his mind was working. 'Sorry to ask again, but a cricket shop in a temple complex? Who will buy? Seventy-year-old aunties who come for kirtan will want willow bats?' Ish scoffed. The waiter had cleared our tea and presented the bill. By Gopi protocol, we had to be out of the restaurant in two minutes. 'Good question. A cricket shop by a temple does sound strange. But think - is there any sports shop in Belrampur?' 'Not really. You don't even get leather balls. Ellis Bridge is the nearest,' Ish said. 'See, that's number one. Number two, the temple is a family place. Kids are among the most bored people in temples. Where are they going to hang out?' 'It is true,' Omi said. 'That is why so many balloon wallahs hover outside.' 'And that is where Ish comes in. People know you were a good player. And youcan give playing tips to every kid who comes to buy from us. Slowly, ourreputation will build.' 'But what about Christian or Muslim kids? They won't come, right?' Ish said. 'Not at first but the shop is outside the temple. As word spreads, they will come. What choice do they have anyway?' 'Where will we get what we sell?' Ish said. 'There's a sports equipment supplier in Vastrapur who will give us a month's credit. If we have the space, we are good to go without cash.' 'But what if it doesn't run?' Ish asked with scepticism. 'Worst case, we sell the stock at a loss and I'll cover the rest through my tuition savings. But it will work, man. If you put your heart into it, it will.' Both of them remained silent. 'Guys, please. I need you for this. I really want to run a business. I can't do it without partners. It's cricket,' I appealed to Ish.
    • 'I'm in,' Omi smiled. 'I don't have to be a priest and I get to work from home. I'm so in.' 'I won't handle money. I'll focus on the cricket,' Ish said. I smiled. Yes, he was coming around. 'Of course. You think I will let you handle cash? So, are we partners?' I stretched out my liand. Omi hi-fived me and Ish joined in. 'What are we going to call it?' Omi said in the auto. 'Ask Ish,' I said. If Ish named it, he would feel more connected to the project. 'How about Team India Cricket Shop?' Ish suggested. 'Great name,' I said and watched Ish smile for the first time that evening. 'Two rupees fifty paise each, guys,' I said as the auto stopped near my pol in Belrampur. 'Here you go Mr Accounts,' Ish said and passed his share. Two 'May Laxmi shower all blessings on you hardworking boys,' Omi's mother said before she left. 'It's beautiful,' Omi said as he joined me in looking at the board. Our first customer came at 12 noon. An under-ten boy strolled to the front of tennis in Belrampur, kids played cricket with them. 'How much for the balls?' The boy moved to local balls. Clearly this was a price'There,' he pointed in the general direction of the other temple shops. I picked The boys moved to the local basket. They, started the ball-bouncing routine again as my heart wept. 'So where do you play cricket?' Ish asked them. 'Satellite,' the elder boy said. Satellite was an upmarket neighbourhood on the other side of the Sabarmati river. 'What are you doing in the old city?' Ish said. 'We came to the temple. It is Harsh bhaiya's birthday,' the younger boy said. I realised we had struck real-estate gold. The temple was ancient and drew in people from the new city, too. And it was a birthday, every chance of pockets Harsh looked up at Ishaan. A grown-up man asking an eleven-year-old if he was a bowler or batsman was a huge honour. It meant he was now old enough to 'And now, whenever you attack, use the front leg to move forward but do not forget the back leg. That is your support, your anchor. Notice Tendulkar, he 'Mummy, I want the ball,' Chinu said. 'How much?' his mother said. 'Six rupees,' Ish said. She took out a twenty-rupee note and asked me to give two. 'I want the bat, mummy,' Harsh said. 'You already have a bat.' 'This one is better for my stance, mummy. Please.' Harsh took a stance again. 'Yes but beta, why buy something from this temple shop. Old city doesn't have good quality. We will go to the Navrangpura market.' 'It is excellent quality, aunty. We source from Kashmiri suppliers. Take my word,' Ish said.
    • 'Aunty' eyed us with suspicion. 'I was the team captain for all municipal schools in the area, aunty. I havepersonally chosen the bats,' Ish said with as much heart as Omi's dad said hisprayers. 'Please, mummy,' Harsh said and tugged at her saree. The tug connected to aunty's purse, which opened and brought out two hundred-rupee notes. Done. We had closed the deal of the day. The bat cost us a hundred and sixty, so forty bucks profit, I exclaimed mentally. 'Goodbye, champ.' Ish waved to Harsh. 'I'll come to your shop on my happy birthday,' Chinu said. 'Yes! You are amazing, Ish,' I said and hi-fived everyone. 'The kid is a quick learner. If he practices, he will be good. Of course, hismother will stuff him with studies the moment he reaches Class X. The onlystance he will take is to sit on a desk with his books,' Ish said. 'Don't be depressing, man,' I said. 'We made forty bucks on the bat and four on the two balls. We are forty-four bucks in profit, sir.' We sold some candy and two more balls in the next two hours. Our total profitfor the day was fifty bucks. We moved the bats and the ball baskets inside andclosed shop at 7.00 p.m., after the puja. To celebrate our opening we chose thechana-bhatura stall. At four bucks a plate, I could expense it to the business. 'Do I get to take some money home? I really want to give mom my first salary,' Omi said as he tucked in half a chili with his hot bhatura. "Wait, this isn't real profit. This is contribution. We earn th< rent first and then we will see.' I placed my empty plate back a the stall. 'Congrats guys, we are in business.' Three Months Later 'Eight thousand three, four and five hundred,' I said as I emptied the cashier'sbox. 'This is our profit for the first three months after paying rent. Not bad, notbad at all.' I was super-pleased. Our shop had opened at an opportune< time. Thesummer vacations had started and India had won the one-day series with SouthAfrica. Kids with lots of time and patriotism flocked to Team India Cricket Shopthe day they received their pocket money. Some came even without money, if only to meet Ish and ge tips on cricket. Ididn't mind as it helped us pass the time. The dull aspect of opening a shop isboredom. We opened from nine to seven, and even with twenty customers a day itmeant only around two customers an hour. 'So we get our share now?' Omi said excitedly.
    • I divided the money into four stacks. The first three stacks were fifteenhundred rupees each - the money each of us could take home. The remainingfour thousand was to be retained in the business. 'What do you mean retained? What do we need to retain it for?' Ish questioned even as Omi happily counted his notes. 'Ish, we need to keep a war chest in case we want to renovate the store. Don't you want a better glass countertop? Or nice lighting?' Ish shook his head. 'Sure we do. And ... I have expansion plans,' I said. 'What?' 'There is a new shopping mall under construction at Navrangpura char rasta. If you book early, you can get a discount on renting a shop.' 'Renting? But we already have a shop,' Ish said, puzzled and irritated at the same time. I knew why Ish grumbled. He wanted to buy a TV for the shop, listening to matches on radio during shop hours was no fun. 'No Ish, a proper shop. Young people like to shop in swanky malls. That is thefuture. Our shop has been doing good business, hut we can't grow unless wemove to a new city location.' 'I like it here,' Omi said. 'This is our neighbourhood. What we sell is being used by kids in Nana Park.' 'I don't want this short-sighted mentality. I will open a store in a mall, and by next year have one more store. If you don't grow in business, you stagnate.' 'Another shop? What? We will not be working together?' Omi said. 'It is Govind's bullshit. We have only started and he already aspires to beAmbani. Can't we just buy a TV?' Ish said, 'Shah Electronics will give us oninstalment if we pay a down-payment of four thousand.' 'No way. We keep the four thousand for business.' 'Well, the TV belongs to the business, no?' Ish said. 'Yes, but it is a dead asset. It doesn't earn. We have a long way to go. Threethousand a month is nothing. And Ish doesn't let me keep notebooks andpencils...' 'I said this is a sports store. I don't want kids to think about studies when they come here.' Ish and I had argued about this before. I saw an easy opportunity, but Ish protested every time. 'Ok, here is a deal,' Ish said, 'I agree to the notebooks, not textbooks mind you,only notebooks. But we buy a TV. I have to watch matches. I don't care, here takemy fifteen hundred.' He threw his share of cash at me. Omi tossed in his money as well. As usual, I had to surrender to fools. 'Ok, but we need to increase the revenue. Target for next quarter is twenty
    • thousand bucks.' They ignored me as they discussed TV brands. I shook my head and outlined my strategy for increasing revenues. 'Will you do coaching classes?' I asked Ish. 'What?' 'Kids love your cricket tips. Why not do cricket coaching for a fee?' 'Me? I am not that good man. And where? In the temple?' 'No, we will do it inthe abandoned SBI compound.' 'Why? Aren't we making enough?' Omi said. 'Wecan never make enough. I want to get to fifty thousand a quarter. Omi, you cangive fitness training to the students.' 'So more work for us. What about you?' Ishsaid. 'I am going to start offering maths tuitions again.' 'Here?' 'Yes, a couple here, or in the SBI compound itself while you guys give cricket coaching.' Omi and Ish looked at me like I was the hungriest shark in the world. 'C'mon guys. I am making sure we have a solid healthy business.' 'It is ok. Just the shop is so boring, Ish,' Omi said. He was excited about making kids do push-ups. 'Yeah, at least I will get to hit the pitch,' Ish said. I tossed in my fifteen hundred, too, and we bought a TV the same day. We set itpermanently at the sports channel. Omi brought mats and cushions and spreadthem in front of the TV. On match days, we would all sit there until a customerarrived. I had to admit, it made the day go by much quicker. I changed the board on the shop. Under the 'Team India Cricket Shop', it alsosaid 'Stationery, Cricket Coaching and Maths Tuitions available'. I may not havediversified geographically, but I had diversified my product offering.
    • Three Apart from cricket, badminton was the other popular game in Belrampur. Infact, the girls only played badminton. It was an excellent turnover business.Shuttle cocks needed to be replaced, rackets needed rewiring and badmintonrackets didn't last as long as cricket bats. School stationery became the other hit item in the following weeks. Only somekids played sports, but every kid needed notebooks, pens and pencils, andparents never said no to that. Many times, someone buying a ball would buy anotebook, or the other way round. We offered a total solution. Soon, supplierscame to us themselves. They kept stuff on credit and returnable basis - chartpaper, gum bottles, maps of India, water bottles and tiffin boxes. It is only afteryou open a shop that you realise the length and breadth of the Indian studentindustry. We kept the cricket coaching and tuitions at the same price -250 rupees amonth. Customers for maths tuitions were easier to get, given the higher demandand my track record. I taught at the SBI compound building in the mornings. Ishused the compound grounds for the two students who signed up for crickettuitions. They were the best players in the Belrampur Municipal School and had fought with their parents to let them try coaching for three months. Of course, we still spent most of our time in the shop. 'Should we do greeting cards?' I wondered as I opened a sample packet left by a supplier. At five-rupee retail price and two-rupee cost price, cards had solid margins. However, people in Belrampur did not give each other greeting cards. 'This is in-swinger, and this is off-swinger. By the way, this is the third ball intwo weeks. What's up Tapan?' Ish asked a regular customer. Thirteen-year-oldTapan was one of the best bowlers of his age in the Belrampur Municipal School.Ish gripped the cricket ball and showed him the wrist movement. 'It is that nightmare Ali. Ball keeps getting lost with his shots. Why did he move to our school?' Tapan grumbled as he rubbed the ball on his shorts. 'Ali? New student? Haven't seen him here,' Ish said. All good players visited our store and Ish knew them personally. 'Yes, batsman. Just joined our school. You should come see him. He wouldn't come here, right?' Tapan said. Ish nodded. We had few Muslim customers. Most of them used other Hindu boys to make their purchases. 'You want to sign up for cricket tuitions. Ish will teach you, he played at the district level,' I could not help pitching our other service. 'Mummy will not allow. She said I can only take tuitions for studies. No sports coaching,' Tapan said. 'It is ok, have a good game,' Ish said, ruffling the boy's hair. 'You see this. That is why India doesn't win every match,' Ish said after Tapan left.
    • Yes, Ish has this ridiculous theory that India should win every match. 'Well, wedon't have to. It won't be much of a game otherwise,' I said and closed the cashbox. 'Our country has a billion people. We should always win,' Ish insisted. 'Statistically impossible.' 'Then why?' I said. 'Don't worry, we have them covered. Our shop now offers both.' 'It is not about the business Govind. Really, is this just about money for you?' 'Money is nice...' 'Whatever,' I shrugged. 'That is not true, Ish. Everyone needs a passion. I have mine.' shop?'  'Ok, ok, we will do a booze party,' I laughed. Omi and Ish had gripped me tight from both sides until I relented. 'Where is my son Omi?' Bittoo Mama entered our shop at (losing time and proceeded to hug his nephew. He held a box of sweets in a red velvet cloth. 'Where were you, Mama?' Omi said. Since the shop opened, he had never visited us. 'What is this, Omi? Wearing shoes?' Bittoo Mama's eyes were lined with kohl. He had a red tikka in the middle of his forehead. 'Mama?' Omi squeaked. I looked at my feet. I wore fake Reebok slippers. Ish 'Other shopkeepers are useless baniyas so you will also become like them? Do you do puja every morning before you open?' 'Yes, Mama,' Omi lied point-blank. 'You also,' Mama said, referring to Ish and me. 'You are Hindu hoys. You have your shop in such a pure place. At least remove your shoes, light a lamp.'
    • 'We come here to work, not to perform rituals,' I said. I now paid full rent every month to be in this shop. Nobody told me how to run my business. Mama looked surprised. 'What is your name?' 'Govind.' 'Govind what?' 'Govind Patel.' 'Hindu, no?' '1 am agnostic,' I said, irritated as I wanted to shut the shop and go home. 'Agno...?' 'He is not sure if there is God or not,' Ish explained. 'Doesn't believe in God? What kind of friends do you have Omi?' Mama was aghast. 'No, that is an atheist,' I clarified. 'Agnostic means maybe God exists, maybe he doesn't. I don't know.' 'You young kids,' Bittoo said, 'such a shame. I had come to invite you and look at you.' Omi looked at me. I turned my gaze away. 'Don't worry about Govind, Mama. He is confused.' I hate it when people takemy religious status for confusion. Why did I have to or not have to believe insomething? Ish offered the Frooti to Bittoo Mama. It softened him a little. 'What about you?' Mama asked Ish. 'Hindu, Mama. I pray and everything.' Ish said. Yeah right only when six balls were left in a match. Mama took a large sip and shifted his gaze to Omi and Ish As far as he was concerned I did not exist. What did you want to invite us for Mama?' Omi said. He lifted the red velvet cloth and unwrapped a three-foot-long brass trishul. Its sharp blades glinted under the shop's tubelight. 'It's beautiful. Where did you get it from?' Omi queried. 'It is a gift from Parekh-ji. He said in me he sees the party's future. I workedday and night. We visited every district in Gujarat. He said, "if we have morepeople like Bittoo, people will be proud to be Hindu again." He made me therecruitment in-charge for young people in Ahmedabad.' Ish and I looked at Omi for footnotes. 'Parekh-ji is a senior Hindu party leader. And he heads the biggest temple trust in Baroda,' Omi said. 'What, he knows the CM or something, Mama?' 'Parekh-ji not only knows the CM, but also talks to him twice a day,' BittooMama said. 'And I told Parekh-ji about you, Omi. I see in you the potential toteach Hindu pride to young people.' 'But Mama, I'm working full time...'
    • 'I am not telling you to leave everything. But get in touch with the greaterresponsibilities we have. We are not just priests who speak memorised lines atceremonies. We have to make sure India's future generation understandsHindutva properly. I want to invite you to a grand feast to Parekh-ji's house. Youshould come too, Ish. Next Monday in Gandhinagar.' Of course, blasphemous me got no invitation. 'Thanks, Mama. It sounds great, but I don't know if we can,' Ish said. How come some people are so good at being polite. 'Why? Don't worry, it is not just priests. Many young, working people will also come.' 'I don't like politics,' Ish said. 'Huh? This isn't politics, son. This is a way of life.' 'I will come,' Omi said. 'But you should come too, Ish. We need young blood.' Ish stayed hesitant. 'Oh, you think Parekh-ji is some old, traditional man who will force you to read scriptures. Do you know where Parekh-ji went to college? Cambridge, and thenHarvard. He had a big hotel business in America, which he sold and came back.He talks your language. Oh, and he used to play cricket too, for the Cambridgecollege team.' 'I will come if Govind comes,' said Ish the idiot. Mama looked at me. In his eyes, I was the reason why Hindu culture had deteriorated lately. 'Well, I came to invite the three of you in the first place. He only said he doesn't believe in God.' 'I didn't say that,' I said. Oh, forget it, I thought. 'Then come.' Mama stood up. 'All three of you. I'll give Omi the address. It is the grandest house in Gandhinagar.'  People called me Mr Accounts; greedy, miser, anything. But the fact is, I didorganise an all-expensepaid booze party to motivate my partners at the shop. Itis bloody hard to get alcohol in Ahmedabad, let alone bulky bottles of beer. One ofmy contacts - Romy Bhai - agreed to supply a crate of extra strong beer for athousand bucks. At 7 p.m. on the day of the party, Romi Bhai left the beer -wrapped in rags - atthe SBI compound entrance. I came to the gate and gave Romi Bhai the day'snewspaper. On the third page of the newspaper, I had stapled ten hundred-rupeenotes. He nodded and left. I dragged the cloth package inside and placed the bottles in the three ice-filledbuckets I had kept in the kitchen. I took out the bottle opener from the kitchenshelf, where we kept everything from Maggi noodles to boxes of crackers to burstwhen India won a match.
    • Another person may see the abandoned SBI branch as an eerie party venue.This used to be an old man's haveli. The owner could not repay and the bankforeclosed the property. Thereafter, the bank opened a branch in the haveli. Theowner's family filed a lawsuit after he died. The dispute still unresolved, thefamily obtained a court injunction that the bank could not use the property forprofit. Meanwhile, SBI realised that a tiny by lane in Belrampur was a terriblebranch location. They vacated the premises and gave the keys to the court. Thecourt official kept a key with Omi's dad, a trustworthy man in the area. This wasdone in case officials needed to view it and the court was closed. Of course, noone ever came and Omi had access to the keys. The property was a six-hundred square yard plot, huge by Belrampurstandards. The front entrance directly opened into the living room, now anabandoned bank customer service area. The three bedrooms on the first floorwere the branch manager's office, the data room and the locker room. The branch manager's office had a giant six-feet vault. We kept our cricket kit in the otherwise empty safe. We hung out most in the haveli's backyard. In its prime, it was the lawn of a rich family. As part of the bank branch, it was an under-utilised parking lot and now, our practice pitch. I rotated the beer bottles in the ice bucket to make them equally cold. Ish walked into the bank. 'So late,' I said. 'It is 8.30.' 'Sorry, watching cricket highlights. Wow, strong beer,' Ish said as he picked upa bottle. We had parked ourselves on the sofas in the old customer waiting areadownstairs. I reclined on the sofa. Ish went to the kitchen to get some bhujia. 'Omi here?' Ish said as he opened the packet. 'No, I am the only fool. I take delivery, clean up the place and wait for my lords to arrive.' 'Partners, man, partners,' Ish corrected. 'Should we open a bottle?' 'No, wait.' Omi arrived in ten minutes. He made apologies about his dad holding him back to clean the temple. Omi then prayed for forgiveness before drinking alcohol. 'Cheers!' all of us said as we took a big sip. It was bitter, and tasted only slightly better than phenyl. "What is this? Is this genuine stuff?' Ish asked. We paused for a moment. Spurious alcohol is a real issue in Ahmedabad. 'Nah, nobody makes fake beer. It is just strong,' I said. If you filled your mouth with bhujia, the beer did not taste half as bad. In fact,
    • the taste improved considerably after half a bottle. As did everyone's mood.'I want to see this Ali kid. Three customers have mentioned him,' Ish said.'The Muslim boy?' Omi said. 'Stop talking like your Mama?' Ish scolded. 'Is that relevant? They say he has excellent timing.' 'Where does he play?' I enquired through a mouthful of bhujia. 'In our school. Kids say his most common shot is a six.' 'Let's go check him out. Looks like the school has your worthy successor,' 1 said. Ish turned silent. It was a sensitive topic and if it was not for the beer, I would not have said it. 'Succeeding Ish is hard,' Omi said. 'Remember the hundred against MahipMunicipal School, in sixtythree balls? No one forgets that innings.' Omi stood upand patted Ish's back again, as if the ten-year-old match had ended minutes ago. 'No one forgets the two ducks in the state selection trials either,' Ish said and paused again. 'Screw that, you were out of form, man,' Omi said. 'But those are the matches that fucking mattered, right? Now can we flip the topic?' Omi backed off and I gladly changed the subject. 'I think we should thank oursponsors for tonight The Team India Cricket Shop. In seven months ofoperation, our profit is 42,600 rupees. Of which, we have distributed 18,000 tothe partners and 22,000 is for the Navrangpura shop deposit. And the remaining2,600 is for entertainment like tonight. So, thank you, dear shareholders andpartners, and let's say cheers to the second bottle.' I took out the second bottle for each of us from the ice bucket.
    • 'Stud-boy,' Ish slurred, standing up, 'This business and its profit is all owed toStud-boy, Mr Govind Patel. Thank you, buddy. Because of you this dropoutmilitary cadet has a future. And so does this fool who'd be otherwise jingling bells in the temple all his life. Give me a hug, Stud-boy.' He came forward to give me a hug. It was drunk affection, but genuine enough. 'Will you do me one more favour buddy?' Ish said. 'What?' 'There is someone who wants maths tuitions,' Ish said. 'No, I am full, Ish. Seven students already...,' I said as Ish interrupted me. 'It is Vidya.' 'Your sister?' 'She finished Class XII. She is dropping a year now to prepare for the medical entrance.' 'You don't need maths to become a doctor.' 'No, but the entrance exams do. And she is awful at it. You are the best man, who else can I trust?' 'If it is your sister, then I mean...,' I took a breath. 'Wow, Vidya to join medical college? Is she that old now?' 'Almost eighteen, dude.' 'I teach younger kids though, class five to eight. Her course is more advanced. I am not in touch.' 'But you got a fucking century in that subject, dude. Just try she needs any help she can get.' I said nothing for a while, trying to remember what I knew of Vidya, which was little. 'What are you thinking. Oh, I know, Mr Accounts. Don't worry we will pay you,' Ish said and took a big sip. 'Shut up, man. It is for your sister. Ok, I'll do it. When do we start?' 'Can you start Monday ... no Monday is Parekh-ji's feast. Damn, Omi what the fuck are we going to do there?' 'The things we do to keep your Mama happy.' I couldn't wait to move to Navrangpura. 'Parekh ji is supposed to be a great man,' Omi said. 'And I always listen to you guys. Come for me this time.' 'Anyway, Tuesday then,' I said to Ish. 'So is she going to come to the bank?' 'Dad will never send her out alone. You come home.' 'What?' I said. Maybe I should have accepted a fee. 'Ok, I'll move some classes. Say seven in the evening?' 'Sure, now can you answer one maths question, Mr Accounts,' Ish said. 'What?'
    • 'You ordered a crate with ten bottles. We drank three each. Where is the tenth one?' Ish stood up swaying. I stood as well. 'The question is not where the tenth one is, but who does itbelong to.' I lunged for the ice bucket. Ish dived in as well. Cold water splashedon the floor as we tugged at the bottle. After a tensecond tiff, he released it. 'Take it, dude. What would I do without you?' Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck. Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?'" Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded.
    • 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.'
    • The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said.  I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.' 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by
    • it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?'
    • 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...' I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?'
    • 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair.
    • 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
    • Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?'" Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
    • equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.' The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said.  I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.'
    • 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?' 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...'
    • I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?' 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
    • Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?'" Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
    • equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.' The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said.  I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.'
    • 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?' 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...'
    • I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?' 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
    • Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?'" Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
    • equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.'
    • The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said.  I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.' 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by
    • it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?'
    • 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...' I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?'
    • 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards and put them in a sack. Then I pull out one card, what is the probability the card is coloured?' 'Why would you put them in a sack?' she said. 'Hypothetical. What is the chance?' 'I don't know.' 'Ok, so let's use this example to start the basic premise of probability. Probability can be defined as,' I said as I wrote the lines: Probability = No of times something you want happens / No of times something can happen 'How come there are no symbols?' she said. 'See, I told you probability is interesting. Let's look at the denominator. How many different cards can come out if I put out one card from the stack of twenty?' 'Er ... twenty?' 'Yes, of course. Good.' 'Duh!' she said. I controlled my irritation. I dumbed down the problem for her and she duh-ed me. Some attitude, there. 'And now the numerator. I want a coloured card. How ma different coloured
    • cards can come out if I pull one?' 'Five?' 'Yep. And so let's apply our wordy formula,' I said and wrote down. Probability = No of times something you want happens (5) / No of times something can happen (20) So, probability = 5/20 = 0.25 'There you go. The probability is 0.25, or twenty-five per cent.' I said and placed the pen back on the table. She reread what I wrote for a few moments. 'That is simple. But the exam problems are harder,' she said at last. 'We will get there. But the basic concept needs to be understood first. And you didn't vomit.' I was interrupted by two beeps on her cellphone. She rushed to her bedsidetable to pick up the phone. She sat on the bed and read her message. 'My schoolfriend. She's stupid,' she smiled fondly at the phone. I kept silent and waited for her to come back. 'Ok, let's do another one,' I said. 'Let us say we have a jar with four red and six blue marbles.' I finished three more problems in the next half an hour. 'See, it's not that hard when you focus. Good job!' I praised her as she solved a problem. 'You want tea?' she said, ignoring my compliment. 'No thanks, I don't like to have too much tea.' 'Oh me neither. I like coffee. You like coffee?' 'I like probability and you should too. Can we do the next problem?' Her cellphone beeped again. She dropped her pen and leaped to her phone. Leave it. No SMS-ing in my class,' I said. 'It's just...,' she said as she stopped her hand midway. 'I will go if you don't concentrate. I have turned down many students for this class.' She was zapped at my firmness. But I am no Mr Nice, and I hate people who are not focused. Especially those who hate maths. 'Sorry,' she said. 'We only have an hour. Do your fun activities later.' 'I said sorry' She picked up her pen again and opened the cap in disgust
    • Five 'Now? It is only four, how can I close business?' I said. 'He doesn't play cricket that often. He always plays marbles. I'lease come today, lsh bhaiya.' 'Let's go. It is a slow day anyway,' lsh said as he slipped on his chappals. Omi had already stepped out. I locked the cashbox and told the owner of the A thin, almost malnourished boy sat on the ground, his face covered with his hands. Ish gave a half smile. Ali's bat had not hit the ball, but his pride. The crowd clapped. 'He is a freak. Ali the freak, Ali the freak,' a kid fielding at mid-on shouted and distracted Ali. 'Just play,' Ish said to Ali and gave the fielder a glare. I laughed. I knew I shouldn't have, but I did. To see the school cricket champion of my batch raped so in public by a mere boy of twelve was too funny. 'They are trying to find it. You want to buy one from my shop, coach?' I jeered 'What happened?' Omi was the first to reach him. 'I told you. I get a headache. Can I go back now?' Ali said, his childish voice almost in tears. Omi looked at Ish and me. I shrugged. 'I told you, no? Freak!' Paras ran up to us. Ali stood. 'Can I go?' We nodded. From his pocket, Ali took out some marbles that resembled his eyes. Rolling them in his hand, he left the ground. 'It can't be just luck, right? No way,' Ish answered his own qestions. 'You guys ate all the biscuits?' Omi came to us as he finished his exercise. 'Sorry, tea?' I offered. 'Still thinking of Ali?' Omi said to Ish, wiping his milk moustache. 'He is amazing, man. I didn't bowl my best, but not so bad either. But he just, 'These Muslim kids man. You never know what...,' Omi said and gulped the remainder of his milk. 'Shut up. He is just fucking good. I have never seen anyone play like that. I want to coach him.' 'Sure, as long as he pays. He can't play beyond four balls. You could help him,' I told Ish. 'What? You will teach that mullah kid?' Omi's face turned worrisome. 'I will teach the best player in Belrampur. That kid has serious potential. You know like...' 'Team India?' I suggested. 'Shh, don't tempt fate, but yes. I want to teach him. They'll ruin him in that school. They can barely teach the course there, forget sports.' 'We are not teaching a Muslim kid,' Omi vetoed. 'Bittoo Mama will kill me.' 'Your choice. Make sure he never comes near the temple. If! Bittoo Mama finds 'His head was hurting after four balls. I want a doctor to see him before we waste.' 'Then we'll go to his house,' Ish said. 'I am not going to any Muslim house,' Omi said almost hysterically. 'I am not going.' 'Let's go open the shop first. It's business time,' I said. ★No cricket, I like marbles,' Ali protested for the fifth time. Ish took four 'Our shop has marbles,' I cajoled. 'Special blue ones from Jaipur. One dozen for 'I have heard the name somewhere. But I can't recall...' Omi murmured, but Ish ignored him. 'Dr Verma's clinic is in the next pol. Let's go,' Ish said.
    •  'Welcome, nice to have someone young in my clinic for a change.' Dr Verma removed his spectacles. He rubbed his fifty-year-old eyes. His wrinkles had multiplied since I last met him three years ago. His once black hair had turned white. Old age sucks. 'And who is this little tiger? Open your mouth, baba,' Dr Verma said and switched on his torch out of habit. 'What happened?' to him. He slammed sixes on all of them,' lsh said. 'What?' Dr Verma said. He knew lsh was one of the best players in the neighbourhood. 'Unbelievable but true,' I chimed in. 'Also, he sat down after four balls. He said 'This is more complicated than the usual viral fever. What happened after the four balls, baba?' 'Whenever I play with concentration, my head starts hurting, Ali said. He slid his hands into his pocket. I heard the rustle of marbles. 'Let us check your eyes,' Dr Verma said and stood up to go" to the testing room. We nodded. I reached for my wallet. Dr Verma gave me a stern glance to stop. 'I miss my sports-doctor days, Verma. This love for Amdavad made me give up a lot,' Dr Multani said. He ordered tea and khakra for all of us. Are we done?' Ali said and yawned. 'Almost. Play marbles in the garden outside if you want,' I )r Multani said. He the boy is exceptionally gifted.' 'How?' I blurted. What was in those tests that said Ali could smash any bowler to bits. 'The boy has hyper-reflex. It is an aberration in medical terms, but proving to be a gift for cricket.' 'Hyper what?' Omi echoed. th inkI looked at Ali outside from the window. He was using a catapult to shoot one marble to hit another one. 'So Ali has good reflexes. That's it?' Ish said. We nodded as Dr Multani continued: And Ali?' Ish said. 'But I bowled fast.' It look us a minute to digest Dr Multani's words. We definitely had to use the first way of thinking to understand it. 'To him a pace delivery is slow motion?' Ish tried again. 'Only to his brain, as it analyses fast. Of course, if you hit him with a fast ball he will get hurt.' 'But how can he hit so far?' Ish said. 'He doesn't hit much. He changes direction of the already fast ball. The energy in that ball is mostly yours.' 'Have you seen other gifted players like him?' I wanted to know. 'Not to this degree, this boy's brain is wired differently. Some may call it a defect, so I suggest you don't make a big noise about it' 'He is Indian team material,' Ish said. 'Dr Multani, you know he is.' 'Can that happen?' Ish said. I am going to coach him,' Ish vowed. And Omi will help. Omi will make him eat and make him fit.'
    • 'No, I can't,' Omi refused as all looked at him. 'Dr Verma, tell I hem why I can't.' 'Because he's a Muslim. Multani, remember Naseer from the Muslim University? Ali is his son.' 'Oh, that Naseer? Yes, he used to campaign in the university elections. Used to be a firebrand once, but I have heard that he has toned down.' 'Yes, he is in politics full time now. Moved from a pure Muslim to a secular party,' Dr Verma said. Ish looked at Dr Verma, surprised. 'I found out after you guys left yesterday. Sometimes I feel I run a gossip centre, not a clinic' Dr Verma chuckled. 'Anyway, that's the issue then. A priest's We left the clinic. I took out four marbles from my pocket and called Ali. 'Ali, time to go. Here, catch.' I threw the four marbles high in the air towards him. I had thrown them purposely apart. Six Ali, so late again,' his dad said as he opened the door. He wore an impeccable black achkan, which contrasted with his white beard and a tight skullcap of lace 'Yes abba, they came to play cricket at the school. They have a sports shop. I told you, remember?' 'Come in,' Ali's dad said. 'We wanted to talk about coaching Ali,' Ish began after Ali left the room with his mom. 'Cricket coaching? No, thanks. We are not interested,' Ali's dad said in a tone that was more conclusive than discussion oriented. 'But uncle...,' Ish protested. 'We won't be charging Ali,' Ish said. I glared at Ish. I hate it when he gives discounts at the shop, but a hundred per cent off is insane. 'Govind teaches maths,' Ish said. 'What?' Ali's dad and I said together. 'Really, he is the best in Belrampur. He got hundred per cent marks in the Class XII board exam.' I double glared at Ish. I was fully booked in tuitions and I already taught his clown of a sister for free. 'But Ish, I can't,' I said. 'Maybe we can do a combined deal. If you allow him cricket coaching with us, f ree?''I am sorry, but this is how I earn my living. I can't...' I said, in a desperate attempt to salvage my asshole image. 'Just take it from my salary, ok? Can you let me talk?' Ish said with great politeness. I wanted to get up and leave.
    • I get a small retirement pension. How much do you charge?' 'Four hun...,' I started to say but Ish interrupted with 'Why don't we start and see how it goes?' Everyone nodded, even Omi because he did whatever everyone else was doing I would have disagreed, but I wanted to get something for the free maths-andcricket coaching programme. We sat on the living room floor. Ali's mom brought us two extra large plates, one for the three of us and another for Ali's dad. The plates had simple food 'They don't teach maths in madrasas?' I asked for the sake of conversation and mathematics. 'Not in this one,' Ali's dad said as he spooned in daal. 'Maths and science are forbidden.' 'That's strange. In this day and age,' I said. I thought of a business opportunity, a massive maths tuition chain outside every madrasa. 'And that's why you had him switch schools?' lsh said. 'Yes. I would have done it earlier, but my father was adamant Ali goes to a madrasa. He died six months ago.' 'Oh, I am sorry,' Ish said. 'Yes, we studied there for twelve years,' I said. 'Omi, you didn't eat anything. At least have some fruit,' Ali's dad said, offering gift. You see how he blossoms with my training.' 'You play cricket?' Ali's father said. 'In school and now I have a sports store. I've seen players, but none like Ali,' Ish said passionately. 'But it's just a game. One guy hits a ball with a stick, the rest run around to stop it.' 'It's more than that,' lsh said, offended. 'But if you have never played it, you Omi suddenly stood up. 'Do you know who you are talking to? I am Pandit Shastri's son. You have seen the Swami temple in Belrampur or not?' His voice 'It is not secular. It is suck-ular party. Suck-up politics, that is all you know. No wonder Muslims like you flock there. Now Ish, we are leaving or not?' 'Omi, behave yourself, we came for Ali.' I don't care. Let him play marbles and fail maths. If Bittoo Mama finds out I Omi sat down and Ish massaged his shoulder. Omi rarely flared up, but when 'I am also new to secular politics, son. I was in a hardline party,' Ali's dad said and paused to reflect, 'yes, I made a few mistakes too.' 'Whatever. Don't even try to convert people from our party to yours,' Omi said fiercely. I won't. But why are you so against us? The party has ruled the country for forty years, we must be doing something right.' 'You won't rule Gujarat anymore. Because we can see through your hypocrisy,' Omi said. 'Omi, stop,' Ish said. 'It's ok, Ish. I rarely get young people to talk to. Let him speak his mind,' Ali's 'Oh, so it is Parekh-ji. He taught you all this?' Ali's dad almost smirked. A lot of Hindus vote for us, you should know,' Ali's father said. 'But slowly they will see the truth.' 'Son, India is a free country. You have a right to your views. My only advice is Hinduism is a great religion, but don't get extreme.' 'Hah, don't tell me about being extreme. We know which religion is extreme.' 'Can we please make a pact to not discuss politics?' Ish pleaded as he signalled
    • a timeout. 'You still fine with sending your son?' I asked Ali's dad, wondering if he had changed his mind after Omi's outbursts. 'Don't be silly. We are communicating our differences. That is what is missing in this country. It's ok, I trust you with my son.' | We stood up to leave and reached the door, lsh confirmed the practice time - 7 a.m. 'Come, I will walk you boys to the main road. I like to take a walk after dinner,' Ali's dad said. 'Really?' I said when no one said anything. I noticed Ali's dad's face. Behind the beard and the moustache, there was a wise man somewhere. 'Good point, the fight is created. That is why I am never big on religion or politics,' I said. 'Once a fight is created, it leads to another and so on. Youl can't really check it,' lsh said. 'You know I used to teach zoology in college,' Ali's dad said. 'And I once read about chimpanzee fights that may be relevant here.' 'Chimpanzee fights?' Even Omi had to laugh. 'So Hindus and Muslims should kiss?' I said. 'Any?' Ish said. 'That there are no reconciliatory mechanisms,' Ish said. We had reached the main road and stopped next to a paan shop. I figured out Ali came on time in a white kurta pajama. He held his maths books in one hand and his cricket bat in the other. ‘Cricket first. Keep the books away,’ Ish said. I went upstairs to the vault to look at Ali's books. The notebooks were blank. Omi smirked. 'Buddy, people here do hundred rounds. How are you going to run between the wickets? How are you going to field?' 'All right, let's play,' Ish clapped his hands.'Paresh, you are with me. We'll bowl first. Naveen you be in Ali's team and bat first.' Paresh had the same shocked expression as Ish, when Ali had hit a six off his first ball. 'Hey, what? You hero or something?' Ish ran to Ali. Ali looked puzzled at the reprimand. 'This is not a cricket ground. We are playing in a bank. If the ball goes out and hits someone, who will be responsible? What if things break? Who will pay?' Ish 'Ok, listen. I am sorry. I did not mean to...,' Ish said. 'That is all I know. I can't do anything else,' Ali's voice cracked. 'We will teach you. Now why don't you bowl?' 'Get your books from upstairs. We will study in the backyard,' I told a sweaty 'Ali. He brought his books down and opened the first chapter of his maths book. It 'Give it to your stick insect,' Omi said. 'Have you seen his arms? They are 'See you at the shop,' Ish told me and turned to Ali, 'Any questions on cricket, champ?' 'Why do people run between the wickets to score runs?' Ali said, nibbling the end of his pen. 'That's how you score. It's the rule,' Ish said. 'No, not that way. I mean why run across and risk getting out for one or two
    • runs when you can hit six with one shot?' Ish scratched his head. 'Keep your questions to maths,' he said and left.  'Not all that bad,' I said. 'We won the World Cup in 1983.' 'And guess who was at the top? Which party? Secular nonsense again,' Omi joined in, opening one eye. 'Well, your right-wing types didn't exactly get their act together cither,' Ish said. 'We will, man. We are so ready. You wait and see, elections next year and Gujarat is ours,' Omi said. 'Zeroes.' I clapped. 'Wow, wisdom is free at the Team India Cricket Shop.' 'Fuck off. Can't have a discussion around here. You think only you are the intellectual type. I am just a cricket coach,' Ish grumbled. 'No, you are the intellectual, bro. I am the sleepy type. Now can we rest until the next pesky kid comes,' I said, closing my eyes. Our nap was soon interrupted. 'Lying down, well done. When rent is cheap, shopkeepers Will sleep,' Bittoo Mama's voice made us all sit up. Now what the hell was he doing here? 'It is slow this time of the day, Mama,' Omi said as he pulled out a stool. He signalled me to get tea. I opened the cash box and took some coins. 'What do you want me to do, Mama?' Omi said as he took the tea glasses off the crate and passed them around. 'I'll come next time, Mama,' Omi said. 'Tell others, too. If you see young people at the temple, tell them about our party. Tell them about me.' 'You will come?' Mama turned to Ish. 'Someone has to man the shop. At least one person, even if it is slow,' Ish said. Smartass, that was supposed to be my excuse. 'And you, Govind?' Mama said. 'I am not into that sort of stuff. I am agnostic, remember?' I said, still reading the register. 'But this isn't about religion. It is about justice. And considering we gave you this shop at such a low rent, you owe US something.' 'It is not your shop. Omi's mother gave it to us. And given the location, the rent we pay is fair,' I said. 'Look at his pride! This two-bit shop and a giant ego,' Mama said. 'If Omi wasn't there, I'd get you kicked out.' 'Oh, really? Where, you will pull a hand-cart with these bats and balls?' Mama 'We will make the deposit next month. Possession when it opens in three months. This two-bit shop is about to move to a prime location sports store,' I 'You pay one thousand a month for this shop. If you were paying the market 'Let me know when you want me, Mama,' Omi said. 'Good, I'll see you,' he said, 'continue your rest.' Ish raised his middle finger as Mama left. Then we lay down and went back to sleep. Seven 'Have you done the sums I gave you?' Vidya nodded. I couldn't see her face as we sat side by side, but I knew she'd just cried when she lifted a hand to wipe an eye. I opened her tuition notebook. I am a tutor, not a consoler. 'You did them all?' She shook her head. 'How many did you do?' She showed me seven fingers. Ok, seven out of ten weren't bad. But why wasn't
    • she saying anything. 'What's up?' I said, more to improve communication than the sight of her I looked at her eyes. Her eyelashes were wet. She had the same eyes as her brother. However, the brown was more prominent on her fair face. 'You did quite well,' I said as I finished reviewing her work. 'Excuse me,' she said and ran to the bathroom. She probably had an outburst of tears. She came back, this time her eyeliner gone and the whole face wet. 'Listen, we can't have a productive class if you are disturbed. We have to do re complex problems today and....’'She told me last night she would SMS me in the morning. It is afternoon 'Next time I will tell her I have something really important to I talk about and not call her for two days,' she said. Some, I repeat only some girls, measure the strength of their friendship by the 'My head is throbbing now. I have never done so much maths continuously in my life. Can we take a break?' 'Vidya, we only have twenty minutes more,' I said. She kept her pen aside and opened her hair. A strand fell on my arm. I pulled my hand away. 'How is your preparation for other subjects? You don't hate science, do you?' I 'Well, we have no choice. There are very few good colleges and competition is tough.' I looked into her bright eyes. I wished they would be as lit up when I taught her probability. 'That's quite amazing, isn't it?' I said. 'Or let's talk of biology. Think about this,' she said and touched my arm. 'What is this?' 'What?' I said, taken aback by her contact. I didn't know what to say to this girl. Maybe I should have stuck to teaching seven-year-olds. 'There are some good reference books outside your textbooks for science,' I told her. 'Are there?' 'Yes, you get them in the Law Garden book market. They go into concepts. I can get them for you if you want. Ask your parents if they will pay for them.' *Of course, they will pay. If it is for studies, they spend like crazy. But can I I was walking out when Ish came home. 'Hey, good class? She is a duffer, must be tough,' said Ish, his body covered in sweat after practice. 'The other boys get pissed though. They think I have a special place for this student.' Ish added. 'They are kids. Don't worry,' I said and wondered how much longer I had to be with him and why the hell did I feel so guilty? 'Yeah. Some students are special, right?' Ish chuckled. For a nanosecond I felt he was making a dig at me. No, this was about Ali. I didn't have a special student. 'You bet. Listen, have to go. Mom needs help with a big wedding order.' With that, I took rapid strides and was out of his sight. My head buzzed like those electrons inside the marble statue in Omi's temple. ★She was dressed in a white chikan salwar kameez on the day of our Law 'That's the bookshop,' I said as we reached the store. 'Ahem, excuse me,' I said as the shopkeeper scanned Vidya up and down.
    • recommended his shop. He displayed the cutting for two years after that. I still get a twenty-five per cent discount on every purchase. 'Well, yes,' the shopkeeper said, taken aback by my abruptness. 'Chemistry book, red and white balls on the cover,' he screamed .it one of his five assistants. Vidya took the book in her hand. Her red nail polish was the same colour as the atoms on the cover. 'Flip through it, see if you like it,' I said. 'Student, I take tuitions,' I whispered to satisfy his curiosity lest he gave up sleeping for the rest of his life. He nodded his head in approval. Why do these old people poke their nose in our affairs so much? Like, would we care if he hung out with three grandmas? 'If you say it is good, I am fine,' she said, finishing her scan. 'Good, and in physics, have you ever read Resnick and Halliday?' 'Oh, I saw that book at my friend's place once. Just the table of contents depressed me. It's too hi-fi for me.' 'What is this "hi-fi"? It is in your course, you have to study it,' I said, my voice stern. 'Don't they have some guides or something?' she said, totally ignoring my comment. 'Guides are a short cut. They solve a certain number of problems. You need to understand the concepts.' 'I won't understand it. But if you want to, let's buy it,' Vidya agreed. 'Of course, you will understand it. And uncle, for maths do you have M.L. Khanna?' I could see his displeasure in me calling him uncle, but someone needed to remind him. 'It covers every topic,' I said and measured the thickness with the fingers of my right hand, the four fingers fell short. hand to ours to check the thickness. 'Don't worry, for the medical entrance you only have to study a few topics,' I reassured her. We paid for the books and came out of the shop. We walked on the Navrangpura main road. My new shop was two hundred metres away. I had the urge to go see it. 'Now what?' she said. 'Nothing, let's go home,' I said and looked for an auto. 'You are a big bore, wore three rings, each with different designs and tiny, multi-coloured stones. 'These books look really advanced,' she said, pointing to the plastic bag. 'They are MSc books,' I said. She raised her eyebrows. 'Can someone explain to me why seventeen-year-olds are made to read MSc books in this country?' I shrugged. I had no answers for lazy students. 'So, what's up?' she broke the silence. 'Are we allowed to talk about anything 'I will give you four - (1) I am your teacher (2) you are my best friend's sister (3) you are younger than me, and (4) you are a girl.'
    • I felt stupid stating my reasons in bullet points. There is a reason why nerds can't impress girls. They don't know how to talk. She laughed at me rather than with me. 'Sorry for the list. Can't get numbers out of my system,' I said. She laughed. 'It tells me something. You have thought it out. That means, you have considered a potential friendship.' I remained silent. 'I am kidding,' she said and tapped my hand. She had this habit of soothingpeople by touching them. With normal people it would've been ok, but with sickpeople like me, female touches excite more than soothe. I felt the urge to look ather face again. I turned determinedly to the pizza instead. 'But seriously, you should have a backup friend,' she said. 'Backup what?' 'You, Ish and Omi are really close. Like you have known each other since you were sperm.' My mouth fell open at her last word. Vidya was supposed to be Ish's little sister who played with dolls. Where did she learn to talk like that? 'Sorry, I meant Ish and Omi are your best friends. But if you have to bitch ...oops, rant about them, who do you do it with?' 'I don't need to rant about myfriends,' I said. 'C'mon, are they perfect?' 'No one is perfect.' 'Like Garima and I are really close. We talk twice a day. But sometimes sheignores me, or talks to me like I am some naive small town girl. I hate it, but sheis still my best friend.' 'And?' I said. Girls talk in circles. Like an algebra problem, it takes a few steps to get them to the point. 'And, talking about it to you, venting, like this, makes me feel better. And I canforgive her. So, even though she is a much closer friend of mine, you became abackup friend.' If she applied as much brain in maths, no one could stop her from becoming asurgeon. But Vidya who could micro-analyse relationships for hours, would notopen M.L. Khanna to save her life. 'So, c'mon, what's the one rant you have about your best friends?' 'My friends are my business partners, too. So it's complicated,' I paused.'Sometimes I don't think they understand business. Or may be they do, but theydon't understand the passion I bring to it.' She nodded. I loved that nod. For once, someone had nodded at something I felt so deeply about. 'How?' she egged me on.
    • Over the last few scraps of pizza, I told her everything. I told her about ourshop, and how I managed everything. How I had expanded the business to offertuitions and coaching. I told her about Ish's irritating habit of giving discounts tokids and Omi's dumbness in anything remotely connected to numbers. Andfinally, I told her about my dream - to get out of the old city and have a new shopin an airconditioned mall, i 'Navrangpura,' she said, 'near here?' 'Yes,' I said, as my chest expanded four inches. She saw the glitter in my eyes, as I could see it reflected in hers. 'Good you never did engineering. Though 1 am sure you would have got in,' she said.
    • 'I can't see myself in an office. And leaving mom and her business alone was not an option.' I had opened up more than I ever had to anyone in my life. This wasn't right, I chided myself. I mentally repeated the four reasons and poked the pile of books. 'More than me, you need to be friends with these books,' I said and asked for the bill.  'Coming,' a girl responded as Ishaan rang the bell of our supplier's home. We had come to purchase new bats and get old ones repaired. Saira, supplier Pandit-ji's eighteen-year-old daughter, opened the door. 'Papa is getting dressed, you can wait in the garage,' she said, handing us thekey to Pandit-ji's warehouse store. We went to the garage and sat on woodenstools. Ish dumped the bats for repair on the floor. The Pandit Sports Goods Suppliers was located in Ellis Bridge. The owner,Giriraj Pandit, had his oneroom house right next to it. Until five years ago, heowned a large bat factory in Kashmir. That was before he was kicked out of hishometown by militants who gave him the choice of saving his neck or his factory.Today be felt blessed being a small supplier in Ahmedabad with his family stillalive. 'Kashmiris are so fair complexioned,' I said to make innocuous conversation. 'You like her,' Ish grinned. Are you nuts?' 'Fair-complexioned, eh?' Ish began to laugh. 'Govind bhai, my best customer,' Pandit-ji said as he came into the warehouse, fresh after a bath. He offered us green almonds. It is nice to be a buyer in business. Everybody welcomes you. 'We need six bats, and these need repairs,' I said. 'Take a dozen Govind bhai,' he said and opened a wooden trunk, the IndiaAustralia series is coming, demand will be good.' 'Not in the old city,' I said. He opened the wooden trunk and took out a bat wrapped in plastic. He openedthe bat. It smelled of fresh willow. Sometimes hat makers used artificial fragranceto make new bats smell good, hut Pandit-ji was the real deal. Ish examined the bat. He went to the box and checked the other bats for cracks and chips. 'The best of the lot for you Govind bhai,' Pandit-ji smiled heartily. 'How much,' I said. 'Three hundred.' 'Joking?' 'Never,' he swore. 'Two hundred fifty,' I said, 'last and final.'
    • 'Govind bhai, it is a bit tough right now. My cousin's family has arrived fromKashmir, they've lost everything. I have five more mouths to feed until he finds ajob and place.' 'They are all living in that room?' Ish was curious. 'What to do? He had a bungalow in Srinagar and a fifty-year. old almondbusiness. Now, see what times have come to, kicked out of our own homes,'Pandit-ji sighed and took out the bats for repair from the gunny bag. I hated sympathy in business deals. We settled for two hundred and seventyafter some more haggling. 'Done,' I said and took out the money. I dealt inthousands now, but imagined that transacting in lakhs and crores wouldn't bethat different. Pandit-ji took the money, brushed it against the mini-temple in his godown andput it in his pocket. His God had made him pay a big price in life, but he still feltgrateful to him. I could never understand this absolute faith that believerspossess. Maybe I missed something by being agnostic. Eight Ali reached practice twenty minutes late. Every delayed minute made Ish more pissed. 'You are wearing kurta pajama, where is your kit?' Ish screamed as Ali walked 'There is a marble competition in my pol.' 'And what about cricket?' Ali shrugged. 'We will start with catching practice. Ali, no shots, give them catches.' 'Switch. Paras to bat, Ali to field,' Ish shouted after three overs. Ali didn't hit any big shots. Disappointed, he threw the bat on| the crease. 'Hey, watch it. It is a new bat,' Ish said. Paras batted a catch towards Ali, whose hands were busy tightening the cords of his pajama. The ball thunked down on the ground. 'Hey,' Ish shook Ali's shoulder hard. 'You dreaming?' 'I want to leave early,' Ali said, rubbing his shoulder. 'Finish practice first.' 'Here Ali, bat,' Paras said as he came close to Ali. 'No he has to field,' Ish said. 'It is ok, Ish bhaiya. I know he wants to bat,' Paras said and gave Ali the bat. And I want to practice more catches. I need to get good before my school match.' Ali took the bat, walked to the crease without looking up. Disconcerted by this insolence, Ish rued spoiling the boy with gifts - sometimes kits, sometimes bats. Ish allowed Ali to bat again upon Paras' insistence. 'Lift it for I'aras, gentle to the left.' The ball arrived, Ali whacked it hard. Like his spirit, the ball Hew out of the bank. 'I want to go.' Ali stared at Ish with his green eyes.
    • 'I don't care about your stupid marble tournament. No marble player ever became great,' Ish shouted. 'Well, you also never became great,' Ali said. Ouch, kids and their bitter truth. Ish froze. His arm trembled. With perfect timing like Ali's bat, Ish's right handswung and slapped Ali's face hard. The impact and shock made Ali fall on theground. Everyone stood erect as they heard the slap. Ali sat up on the ground and sucked his breath to fight tears. 'Go play your fucking marbles,' Ish said and deposited a slap again. I ranbehind to pull Ish's elbow. Ali broke into tears. I bent down to pick up Ali. I triedto hug him, as his less-strict maths tutor. He pushed me away. 'Go away,' Ali said, crying as he kicked me with his tiny legs, I don't want you.' 'Ali, quiet buddy. Come, let's go up, we will do some fun sums,' I said. Oops, wrong thing to say to a kid who had just been whacked. 'I don't want to do sums,' Ali glared back at me. 'Yeah, don't want to field. Don't want to do sums. Lazy freak show wants to play marbles all day,' Ish spat out. I felt it was stupid of Ish to argue with a twelve-year-old. 'Everyone go home, we practice tomorrow,' I said. 'No, we have to...,' Ish to said. 'Ish, go inside the bank,' I said. 'I don't like him,' Ali said, still in tears. 'Ali behave. This is no way to speak to your coach. Now go home,' I said. I exhaled a deep breath as everyone left. Maybe God sent me here to be everyone's parent. ★'What the fuck is wrong with you? He is a kid,' I said to Ish after everyone left. I made lemonade in the kitchen to calm Ish down Ish stood next to me. 'Brat, thinks he has a gift,' Ish said. 'He does,' I said and passed him his drink, 'hey, can you order another LPGcylinder. This one is almost over,' I said. We did have a kerosene stove, but it wasa pain to cook on that. We came to the cashier's waiting area to sit on the sofas. Ish kept quiet. He held back something. I wasn't sure if it was tears, as I had never seen Ish cry. 'I shouldn't have hit him,' he said after drinking half a glass. I nodded. 'But did you see his attitude? "You never became great." Can you imagine if I had said it to my coach?' 'He is just a twelve-year-old. Don't take him seriously,'
    • 'He doesn't care man. He has it in him to make to the national team. But all he wants to do is play his fucking marbles.' 'He enjoys marbles. He doesn't enjoy cricket, yet.' Ish finished his drink and tossed the plastic glass in the kitchen sink. We locked the bank's main door and the gate and walked towards our shop. 'It is so fucking unfair,' Ish said, 'I slaved for years. I gave up my future for thisgame. Nothing came of it. And you have this kid who is born with this talent hedoesn't even care about.'
    • 'What do you mean nothing came of it? You were the best player in school for years.' 'Yeah, in Belrampur Municipal School, that's like saying Vidya is the Preity Zinta of our pol. Who cares?' 'What?' I said and couldn't control a smile. 'Nothing, our aunt once called her that, and I keep teasing her on it,' Ish said. His mood lightened up a little. We came close to our shop. The temple dome became visible. 'Why does God do this Govind?' Ish said. 'Do what?' 'Give so much talent to some people. And people like me have none.' 'You are talented.' 'Not enough. Not as much as Ali. I love this game, but have no gifts. I pushedmyself - woke up at 4 a.m. everyday, training for hours, practice and morepractice. I gave up studies, and now that I think of it, even my future. And thencomes this marble player who has this freakish gift. I could never see the ball andwhack it like Ali. Why Govind?' Continuing my job as the parent of my friends, I had to try and answer everysilly question of his. 'I don't know. God gives talent so that the ordinary personcan become extraordinary. Talent is the only way the poor can become rich.Otherwise, in this world the rich would remain rich and the poor would remainpoor. This unfair talent actually creates a balance, helps to make the world fair,' Isaid. I reflected on my own statement a little. 'So why doesn't he care? Marbles? Can you believe the boy is more interested in marbles?' 'He hasn't seen what he can get out of cricket. Right now he is the marblechamp in his pol and loves that position. Once he experiences the same successin cricket, he will value his gift Until now, he was a four ball freak show. You willturn him into a player Ish,' I said. We reached the shop. Omi had reached before us and swept the floor. He missed coming to coaching, but he had promised his Mama to attend the morning rallies at least twice a week. Today was one of those days. 'Good practice?' Omi asked idly as he ordered tea. Ish went inside. I put a finger on my lips to signal Omi to be quiet. A ten-year-old came with thirty coins to buy a cricket ball. 'A leather ball is twenty-five bucks. You only have twenty-one,' I said as I finished the painful task of counting the coins. 'I broke the piggy bank. I don't have anymore,' the boy said very seriously. 'Then come later,' I said as Ish interrupted me.
    • 'Take it,' Ish said and gave the boy the ball. The boy grabbed it and ran away. 'Fuck you Ish,' I said. 'Fuck you businessman,' Ish said and continued to sulk about Ali in the corner.  It took Ish one box of chocolates, two dozen marbles and a new sports cap towoo Ali back. Ali missed us, too. His mother told us he cried for two hours thatday and never attended the marble tournament. He hadn't come for practice thenext two days either. Ish's guilt pangs had turned into an obsession. Ali had an apology ready - probably stage-managed by his mother. He touched Ish's feet andsaid sorry for insulting his guru. Ish hugged him and Have the gifts. Ish said he'dcut off his hand rather than hit him again. All too melodramatic if you ask me.The point was Ali came back, this time more serious, and Ish mellowedsomewhat. Ali's cricket improved, and other students suggested we take him tothe district trials. Ish vetoed the idea. 'No way, the selection people will destroy him. If they rejecthim, he is going to be disappointed forever. If they accept him, they will make himplay useless matches for several years. He will go for selections, but only the bigone - the national team.' 'Really? You confident he will make it,' Omi said, passing us lassi in steel glasses after practice. 'He will be a player like India never had,' Ish announced. It sounded a bit mad,but we had seen Ali demolish the best of bowlers, even if for a few balls. Two moreyears and Ish could well be right. 'Don't talk about Ali's gift at all. I don't trust anyone.' Ish wiped his lassi moustache.  'Excuses don't clear exams, Vidya. If you study this, it will help. Nothing else will.' I opened the chemistry book again. 'I tried,' she said and pushed back her open hair. She had not bathed. She hada track pant on that I think she had been wearing since she was thirteen and apink T-shirt that said 'fairy queen' or something. How can a grown-up womanwear something that says 'fairy queen'? How can anyone wear something thatsays 'fairy queen'? 'I pray everyday. That should help,' she said. I didn't know whether to laugh or flip my fuse again at her nonchalance. Maybe if she didn't look like a cute ragdoll in those clothes, I would have lost my temper again. 'Don't leave it to God, nothing like reading organic chemistry yourself,' I said. She nodded and moved her chair, as a bottle fell over on the ground. 'Oops,' she said and bent down.
    • 'What?' I stood up in reflex. It was a bottle of coconut oil, fortunately closed. 'Nothing, I thought I'll oil my hair,' she said and lifted the blue bottle. I looked at her face. My gaze lasted a quarter second more than necessary.There is an optimal time for looking at women before it gets counted as a stare. Ihad crossed that threshold. Self-consciously she tugged at the T-shirt's necklineas she sat back up. The tug was totally due to me. I didn't look there at all, butshe thought I did. I felt sick. 'Coconut oil,' I said, probably the dumbest thing to say but it changed the topic. 'Yes, a bit of organic chemistry for my head. Maybe this will help.' I flipped the book's pages to see how benzene became oxidised. 'When is your birthday?' she said. '14 March,' I replied. 'Pi Day.' 'What day?' 'Pi Day. You see, Pi approximates to 3.14 so 14 March is the same date. It is Einstein's birthday, too. Cool, isn't it?'
    • 'A day for Pi? How can you have a day for something so horr
    • 'Excuse me? It is an important day for maths lovers. We never make it public though. You can say you love literature, you can say you love music but you can't say you feel the same way for maths.' 'Why not?' 'People label you a geek.' 'That you are,' she giggled. She pulled the oil bottle cap close. 'Can you help me oil my hair? I can't reach the back.' My tongue slipped like it was coated in that oil as I tried to speak. 'Vidya, we should study now.' 'Yeah, yeah, almost done. Just above the back of my neck, please.' She twisted on her chair so her back faced me. She held up the cap of the oil bottle. What the hell, I thought. I dipped my index finger in the oil and brought it to her neck. 'Not here,' she giggled again. 'It tickles. Higher, yes at the roots.' She told me to dip three fingers instead of one and press harder. I followed her instructions in a daze. The best maths tutor in town had become a champi man. 'How's the new shop coming?' she said. 'Great, I paid the deposit and three months advance rent,' I said. 'Fifty thousand bucks, cash. We will have the best location in the mall' 'I can't wait,' she said. 'Two more months,' I said. 'Ok, that's enough. You do it yourself now, I will hold the cap for you.' She turned to look at me, dipped her fingers in the oil and applied it to her head. 'I wish I were a boy,' she said, rubbing oil vigorously. 'Why? Easier to oil hair?' I said, holding up the cap in my hand even though my wrist ached. 'So much easier for you to achieve your passions. I won't be allowed to open such a shop,' she said. I kept quiet. 'There, hopefully my brain would have woken up now,' she said, tying back her hair and placing the chemistry book at the centre of the table. '1 don't want to study this,' she said. "Vidya, as your teacher my role is...' 'Yeah, what is your role as my teacher? Teach me how to reach my dreams or how to be a drone?' I kept quiet. She placed her left foot on her lap. I noticed the tiny teddy bears all over her pajamas. 'Well, I am not your teacher. I am your tutor, your maths tutor. And as far as I
    • know, there are no dream tutors.' 'Are you not my friend?' 'Well, sort of.' 'Ok, sort-of-friend, what do you think I should do? Crush my passion and surround myself with hydrocarbon molecules forever?' I kept quiet. 'Say something. I should lump these lessons even if I have no interest in them whatsoever as that is what all good Indian students do? I kept quiet. 'What?' she prodded me again. 'The problem is you think I am this geek who solves probability problems forthrills. Well, maybe I do, but that is not all of me. I am a tutor, it is a job. Butnever fucking accuse me of crushing your passion.' Too late I realised I had usedthe F-word. 'Sorry for the language.' 'Cursing is an act of passion.' I smiled and turned away from her. 'So there you go,' she said, 'my tutor-friend, I want to make an admission to you. I want to go to Mumbai, but not to cut cadavers. I want to study PR.' I banged my fist on the table. 'Then do it. Don't give me this wish-I-was-a-boyand I'm-trapped-in-acage nonsense. Ok, so you are in a cage, but you have anice, big, oiled brain that is not pea-sized like a bird's. So use it to find the keyout.' 'Medical college is one key, but not for me,' she said. 'In that case, break the cage,' I said. 'How?' 'What makes the cage? Your parents, right? Do you have to listen to them all the time?' 'Of course not. I've been lying to them since I was five.' 'Really? Wow,' I said and collected myself. 'Passion versus parents is a toughcall. But if you have to choose, passion should win. Humanity wouldn't haveprogressed if people listened to their parents all the time.' 'Exactly. Our parents are not innocent either. Weren't we all conceived in amoment of passion?' I looked at her innocent -looking face, shocked. This girl isout of control. Maybe it isn't such a good idea to get her out of her cage.
    • Nine 26 January is a happy day for all Indians. Whether or not you feel patriotic, itis a guaranteed holiday in the first month of the year. I remember thinking itwould be the last holiday at our temple shop since we were scheduled to move tothe new mall on Valentine's Day. Apart from the deposit, we had spent anothersixty thousand to fit out the interiors. I borrowed ten thousand from my mother,purely as a loan. Ish's dad refused to give any money. Omi, even though I hadsaid no, took the rest in loan from Bittoo Mama. The night before Republic Day, I lay in bed with my thoughts. I had invested ahundred and ten thousand rupees. My business had already reached lakhs.Should we do a turf carpet throughout? Now that would be cool for a sports shop.I dreamed of my chain of stores the whole night. 'Stop shaking me mom, I want to sleep,' I screamed. Can't the world let a businessman sleep on a rare holiday. But mom didn't shake me. I moved on my own. I opened my eyes. My bed wentback and forth too. I looked at the wall clock. It had fallen on the floor. The roomfurniture, fan and windows vibrated violently. I rubbed my eyes, what was this? Nightmares? I stood up and went to the window. People on the street ran haphazardly in random directions. 'Govind,' my mother screamed from the other room, 'hide under the table. It is an earthquake.' 'What?' I said and ducked under the side table kept by the window in reflex. Icould see the havoc outside. Three TV antennas horn the opposite building felldown. A telephone pole broke and collapsed on the ground. The tremors lasted for forty-five seconds, the most destructive and longest forty-five seconds of my life. Of course, I did not know n then. A strange silence followed the earthquake. 'Mom,' I screamed. 'Govind, don't move,' she screamed back. 'It is gone,' I said after ten more minutes had passed, 'you ok?' I came out to the living room. Everything on the wall -I alendars, paintings and lampshades, lay on the floor. 'Govind,' my mother came and hugged me. Yes, I was fine. My mother was fine
    • too. 'Let's get out,' she said. 'Why?' 'The building might collapse.' 'I don't think so,' I said as my mother dragged me out in my pajamas. The street was full of people. 'Is it a bomb?' a man spoke to the other in whispers. 'Earthquake. It's coming on TV. It started in Bhuj,' a man on the street said. 'Bad?' the other man said. 'We felt the tremors hundreds of kilometres away, imagine the situation in Bhuj,' another old man said. 'Reports suggest that while most of Ahmedabad is safe, many new and upcoming buildings have suffered severe damage...,' the reporter said as tingles Did I miss the building? I said as I reached my lane. The mayhem on the street earthquake. Or at myself, for betting so much money. Anger for making thef irs t big mistake of my life. My body trembled with violent intensity. 'Don't worry, God will protect us,' someone tapped my shoulder. 'Oh really, then who the hell sent it in the first place?' I said and pushed the stranger away. I didn't need sympathy, I wanted my shop. 'What are you doing? Haven't we seen enough destruction?' said someone next to me. 'Govind, Govind,' Ish said. He screamed in my ear when I finally noticed him. 'What the hell are you doing here man? It is dangerous to be out, let's go home' Ish said. I kept looking at the rubble like I had for the last four hours. 'Govind,' Ish said, 'we can't do anything. Let's go.' 'We are finished Ish,' I said, feeling moist in my eyes for the first time in a decade. 'It's ok buddy. We have to go,' Ish said. 'We lost everything. Look, our business collapsed even beforeIT opened...' TO'Govi, let's go home,' Ish said. He never shortened my name before. He'd never seen me like that too. Their CEO and parent had broken down. Ish bought a Frooti to calm me. It helped, especially since I didn't eat anything else for the next two days. I think the rest of the Ambavadis didn't either. ★ I had not left home for a week. For the first three days I had burning fever, and 'I am in debt, Doctor. I lost more money in one stroke than my business ever earned.' 'I have lost a lot.' I don't feel like doing anything. This earthquake, why did this liappen? Do you know our school is now a refugee camp?' 'Yes, and what are the refugees doing? Lying in bed or trying to recover?' 'Hope to see you out of bed tomorrow,' Dr Verma said and left. The clock showed three in the afternoon. I kept staring at it until four.
    • 'May I come in, Govind sir,' Vidya's cheeky voice in my home sounded so strange that I sprang up on bed. And what was with I he sir? She had the thick MX. Khanna book and a notebook in her hand. 'What are you doing here?' I pulled up my quilt to hide my pajamas and vest attire. She, of course, looked impeccable in her maroon and orange salwar kameez with matching mirror-work dupatta. 'I got stuck with some sums. Thought I'd come here and ask since you were not well,' she said, sitting down on a chair next to my bed. My mother came in the room with two cups of tea. I mimed to her for a shirt. 'You want a shirt?' she said, making my entire signalling exercise futile. 'What sums?' I asked curtly after mom left. 'Maths is what I told my mom. Actually, I wanted to give you this.' She extended the voluminous M.L. Khanna tome to me. What was that for? To solve problems while bedridden? My mother returned with a shirt and left. I held my shirt ill one hand and theM.L. Khanna in another. Modestyvs Curiosity, I shoved the shirt aside andopened the book. A handmade, pink greeting card fell out. The card had a hand-drawn cartoon of a boy lying in bed. She had labelled itGovind, in case it wasn't clear to me. Insidf it said: 'Get Well Soon' in thecheesiest kiddy font imaginable. A poem underneath said: To my maths tutor/ passion guide/ sort-of-friend, 1 cannot fully understandycrur loss, but 1 can try. Sometimes life throws curve balls and you question why.There may be no answers, but I assure time will heal the wound. Here is wishing you a heartfelt 'get well soon'. Your poorest performing student, Vidya It's not very good,' she murmured. 'I like it. I am sorry about the sort-of friend. I am just...,' I said. 'It's ok. I like the tag. Makes it clear that studies are first, right?' I nodded. 'How are you doing?' I overcame my urge to turn to the wall. 'Life goes on. It has to. Maybe an airconditioned mall is not for me.'
    • 'Of course, it is. It isn't your fault. I am sure you will get 1 here one day. Thinkabout this, aren't you lucky you weren't in the shop already when it happened?Imagine the lives lost if the mall was open?' She had a point. I had to get over this. I had to re-accept liittoo Mama's smug face. I returned her M.L. Khanna and kept the card under my pillow. 'Ish said you haven't come to the shop.' 'The shop is open?' I said. Ish and Omi met me every evening but never mentioned it. 'Yeah, you should see bhaiya struggle with the accounts at home. Take tuitions for him, too,' she giggled. 'I'll leave now. About my classes, no rush really.' 'I'll be there next Wednesday,' I called out.
    • 'Nice girl,' my mother said carefully. 'You like her?' 'No. Horrible student.' Ish and Omi came at night when I had finished my unappetising dinner of boiled vegetables. 'How are you running the shop?' my energetic voice surprised them. 'You sound better,' Ish said. 'Who is doing the accounts?' I said and sat up. Omi pointed at Ish. 'And? What is it? A two for one sale?' 'We haven't given any discounts all week,' Ish said and sat next to me on the bed. Ish pulled at my pillow to be more comfortable. 'Wait,' I said, jamming the pillow with my elbow. 'What's that?' Ish said and smiled as he saw an inch of pink paper under my pillow. 'Nothing. None of your business,' I said. Of course it was his business, it was his sister. 'Card?' Omi said. 'Yes, from my cousin,' I said. 'Are you sure?' Ish came to tickle me, to release my death grip on the pillow. '.Stop it', I said, trying to appear light hearted. My heart beat fast as I pinned the pillow down hard. 'Pandit's daughter, isn't it?' Omi chuckled. 'Whatever,' I said, sitting on the pillow as a desperate measure. 'Mixing business with pleasure?' Ish said and laughed. I joined in the laughter to encourage the deception. 'Come back,' Ish said. 'The loans ... It's all my fault,' I told the wall. 'Mama said we can continue touse the shop,' Omi said. 'No conditions?' I said, surprised. 'Not really,' Omi said.'And that means?' 'It is understood we need to help him in his campaign,' Ishsaid. 'Don't worry, you don't have to do anything. Omi and I will help.' 'We have to pay his loan back fast. We have to,' I said. 'We'll get over this,' Ish looked me in the eye. Brave words, but for the first time believable. 'I am sorry I invested...,' I felt I had to apologise, but Omi interrupted me. 'We did it together as business partners. And you are the smartest of us.' I was not sure if his last line was correct anymore. I was a disaster as a businessman. 'See you tomorrow,' I said.
    • After they left, I pulled out the card again and smoothed the ceases. I read the card eight times before falling asleep. was my destiny, and earning that meagre income from it my karma. More was not meant to be. I breathed out, felt better and opened the cash drawer. 'Pretty low for two weeks. But first the earthquake, and now the India-Australia series,' Ish said from his corner. 'People really don't have a reason to play anymore,' Omi said. 'No, no. It's fine. What's happening in the series?' I said. I had lost track of the 'Five of them, yet to start,' Omi said. 'I wouldn't get my hopes high. These Australians are made of something else.' 'I'd love to know how the Australians do it,' Ish said. Mama's arrival broke up our chat. 'Samosas, hot, careful,' he said, placing a brown bag on the counter. 'Try to forget what happened,' Mama sighed. 'I have never seen such devastation.' 'How was your trip?' Omi said. Mama had just returned from Bhuj. 'Misery everywhere. We need camps all over Gujarat. But how much can Parekh-ji do?' 'We'll close the camp in three weeks,' Mama said to Omi, 'and I can go back to my main cause, Ayodhya.' 'Mama, about your loan,' I turned to him, but he did not hear me. 'My son is coming with me to Ayodhya. You guys should join,' he said. He saw Mama noted the cynicism in my expression. 'Only a marketing strategy for a small campaign. The other party does it at a far bigger scale.' I picked up another samosa. 'It's ok, Mama. Politics confuses me,' I said. 'I can't comment. We will help you. You have saved our livelihood, we are forever indebted.' 'You are my kids. How can you be indebted to your father?' 'Business is down, but on the revised loan instalments...,' but Mama cut me again. 'Forget it, sons. You faced a calamity. Pay when you can. And now you are members of our party, right?' 'We are all like that when young. But you have started believing in God?' Mama said and beamed. 'I'm just less agnostic now.' 'Son, this is the best news I've heard today,' Mama said. 'Something good has come out of all this loss.' A man dragged a heavy wooden trunk into our shop. 'Who's that? Oh, Panditji?' I said. 'I have no cash either,' I said as I offered him a samosa. 'Pandit-ji, business is terrible.' Mama introduced himself to Pandit-ji. They started talking like grown-ups do, 'Yes, to a cricket match. One of the students we coach is playing,' Ish said, avoiding Ali's name. Omi downed the shutters of the shop. Omi signalled and all of us bent to touch Mama's feet. 'My sons,' Mama said as he held a palm over our heads and blessed us. Don't worry about that idiot from that stupid team. You creamed them,' Ish said to Ali. 'Will they hurt me again?' Ali said. Omi picked up a limping Ali. 'I'll take him to the shop,' Omi said. 'And ask ma to make him some turmeric milk. You guys get dinner, whatever he wants.'
    • 'He is ready to meet the Australians.' Ten India vs Australia Test Match Kolkata, 11-15 March 2001 Day 1 'Meet the Australians?' Omi said as he dusted the counter. Ish and I sat on the floor in front of the TV. 'They are in India,' Ish said. He pointed to the Australian team batting on the then we could,' Ish said. 'They are raping us again. Fuck, business is never going to pick up,' I said as I if ,'So we go see a match. Then what? Knock on Hayden's door and say, "Hey, check this kid out." How do you intend to meet them?' I mocked. 'I don't know,' Ish turned to the screen, scowling. 'Bowl better, guys.' 'Excuse me, are you watching the India-Australia match?' a lady's voice 'Of course, he can come in.' Ish opened the door wider. The boy came in and sat before the TV. Ish and I exchanged a round of dirty looks. 'School?' I said. The answer was no. We did not supply to schools. 'Yes,' I said. 'In fact, we have our inhouse advisor Ishaan. He is an ex-district level player.' 'Great. I will see you then,' Mrs Ganguly said and left us to ponder over her business proposition. 'You want candy, Babloo?' Omi said as we tried our best to impress anyone related to Mrs Ganguly. 'But we are not suppliers,' Ish said later. 'So what? You have to swing this for me, Ish. This is a regular income 'It's the last one-day. I am stretching it out as far as I can. If we save enough, let's go with Ali.' 'But...' 'Say yes.' 'Yes,' I said. After the mall fiasco, I wanted to make Ish happy. I stood up to check the day's accounts. 'Cool. Hey, see the match?' Ish said. Tt has totally turned.' 'Bhajji, you are great,' Ish bent forward to kiss the TV. 'Don't watch the TV from so close,' Babloo said. 'Here,' she said, giving me her card. 'We have a board meeting every Monday. Why don't you come and tell us how you can help?' We had four days to prepare. The board would be in a better mood if India won this match. 'Sure, we will see you then,' I said and slipped a candy to Babloo. Day 2 'Who the fuck is this Ramesh? Connection quota,' Ish said. Ish tore his chapattis with anger over dinner. 'These Australians must be thinking - why even bother to come and play with India.' 'Pray for a draw. With a draw there is hope of sales. Else we should change our business. Sports is the wrong choice in our country.' I passed the daal to Omi. 'Should we open another flower shop? There will always be a demand for that in a temple,' I said. Ish ignored me. He mumbled something about avoiding a follow-on, which looked pretty difficult. Day 3
    • Why on earth had Istarted this business? What an idiot I am? Why couldn't I open a sweet shop instead? Indians would always eat sweets. Why sports? Why cricket? 'Should we turn off the TV?' I said. Should we close the shop for good? I thought. 'Wait, I want to see this. I want to see how our team makes eye contact when they lose so badly,' Ish said. 'They are not making eye contact. You are just watching them on TV,' Omi said. 'If this match is a draw, I will treat you all to dinner. Ok, two dinners,' Ish said. For its second innings, India made one change. It replaced the opener Ramesh with another new guy called Laxman. 'The team is full of people with contacts. Everyone is getting their turn today,' Ish said as the Indian openers took the crease for the second follow-on innings. 'See, that's what the Indian team does. Right when you give up hope, they get you involved again,' Ish said at dinner. 'You were going to see all days anyway. Please think about our Monday 'I can finally sleep in peace. I'll buy the draw dinners,' Ish said as we downed 'Is Ganguly mad? It's too risky. We should have continued to play. Get the I pulled out the cricket data book from the top shelf. We hardly sold any of these, but the publisher insisted we keep a few copies 'Ok, so it has happened Ish nodded. 'Like the probability is so low that I'd say if India wins, I will sponsor the Goa I told Omi to stop praying too much. A draw would be fine. Ganguly probably did not know the odds. The worst would be if Australia did score the runs. '161/3,' Omi read Australia's score at tea, which coincided with our own break. Day 5 - Post-tea 'Ish, don't fucking stand in front of the TV,' I said. But Ish wasn't standing, only jumping. 'Two balls quickly please, we have a match,' a boy plonked a fifty-rupee note on the counter. The first customer of the great Indian Cricket Season had arrived. I folded my hands and looked at the sky. Thank you God, for the miracles you bestow on us. 'We have come to offer solutions, not just sell some balls,' I started. 'Go on,' the principal said, as my pause for effect became too long. 'So we have a district-level champion player who can design a package based on your needs and budgets,' I pointed at Ish and every teacher looked at him. 'How much will this cost?' the administrative head said. 'We did some calculations. Your average cost will be ten thousand a month,' I said. 'That's too much. This is a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Not a private school,' the administrative head said. He shut the notebook and pushed it towards me. I took a deep breath. I had thought of an answer for this scenario. 'Sir, we can scale down.' Ish interupped me, 'It is twelve rupees per child a month. Don't you think sport deserves as much as the cost of a fountain pen?' The teachers looked up from their notebooks and exchanged glances. 'Frankly, no. We get judged on our results. The pass percentage and the first 'Do you know half our classrooms leak in the rain,' the head said. 'Should we get shiny balls or fix the leaks?' He stood up to leave. I mentally said the F-word a few times. C'mon Govind, save this. You need business, any business,
    • 'And all the education is in these books they read under the plastered roofs? 'What are you talking about?' This from one of the teachers, 'Sit down, son,' the principal said. Ish took his seat but did not keep quiet. We stood up to shake hands. Six educated, fifty-somethings stood up to shake hands with me. Yes, I had become a real businessman. 'If this works, why don't you come to a meeting at our Belapur school?' the oldest gentleman in the group said. 'Oh, yes. This is Mr Bhansali, headmaster of the Belapur school. He came for a visit, so I asked him to sit in this meeting,' the principal introduced. I took his card. I mentally made a note to order business cards and wondered if I could do the fist pumping now or save it for later. Eleven Dil Chahta Hai'Goa is your brother's idea. I really don't need this break from work,' I said. 'Of course, you do,' she said as she stepped down. 'It will help you get over the earthquake.' She took her seat, opened her book and slapped each page as she turned it "Very funny. So did you do the calculus chapter in your so-called self-study mode.' 'I did self-study as you did not have time for me,' she said. 'Anyway, I don't understand it. As usual, I suck. What is all this "dx dt", and why are they so many scary symbols?' 'Don't talk like what?' 'Like a duffer. Now pay attention.' 'I am not a duffer. Just go to Goa, manage your business, make money, insult people who don't salivate for maths and don't make any time for friends. I can I explained calculus to her for an hour. 'Try the exercises in the end. And read 'I'll be back in four days,' I said as I headed to the door. 'Who cares?' she said from behind me.  'Eat on time and don't stay up late,' said Ali's dad as the train signal went off. Ali was too excited to care for his dad's instructions. He reserved the top berth for himself and climbed up. Omi said his pre-journey prayers. 'Ali's ammi doesn't care. He is a piece of my heart,' Ali's dad said and his eyes became moist. 'Sometimes I wish I had not married again.' 'It is ok, chacha. See now you can go to your election rally in Baroda,' I said. Ish pulled Ali's arm and drew him into his lap. 'Say bye properly,' Ish said. 'Khuda Hafiz, abba,' Ali called out as the train left for sunnier climes.  'Organisers. We have to meet the organisers. Let us go in,' I said. A hairy arm stopped me. The arm belonged to a security guard outside the VIP stand. 'Thirty thousand people here want to go in there. Who are you? Autograph I own Wilson Sports. We want to talk about some endorsement deals. Now will you cooperate or...' 'Gujarati?' he said. I stared at him, trying to decipher the better answer. In India you don't know whether someone will like you or hate you because you are from a certain place. 'Yes,' I said guardedly. 'Oh, how are you?' he said in Gujarati. Thank God for India's various regional
    • 'I came to see the match. I saw the Australians play and thought maybe we could find a brand ambassador.' 'Why Australian? Why don't you take an Indian?' The guard nodded. He spoke into a microphone hanging from his ear and 'One guard will accompany you. What about the kid? He has to go?' 'Oh yes, he is in the campaign. You see, we are doing a coach and student theme.' The gates creaked open. The guards frisked us to the point of molestation. Finally, we made it to the enclosure. We walked through crease, their team would be in the stands soon. 'Omi will be ok?' Ish whispered. I nodded. 'We will wait for the Australian team to come, ok?' I said to the security guard team dress. 'Sharandeep Singh, the twelfth man. He may be in the team noon. Should I go shake his hand?' 'Don't be nuts. One suspicion you are star-struck and they will kick our asses out of here,' I said. 'Can I take that?' Ali said as waiters in white uniforms walked a round with 'That is Steve Waugh, the Australian captain,' Ish whispered in my ear. I could hear his heart beat through his mouth. 'Ish bhaiya, there is Ponting, in the pads. He is one down,' Ali's scream ruined my effort to act placid. A few people noticed, but looked away as Ali was a kid. True VIPs never screamed at stars even though they liked to hang around them. The Australian team hi-fived at the six. The curly haired boy-man in f&nt 'I'd do the same thing if it were my team,' he said. Here was a chance to talk. 'Batsman?' 'Bowler, pace,' Fred answered. 'Fred, we need to talk. About this boy. We really need to talk,' Ish said, his breath short with excitement. 'Sure mate, I'll come on over,' Fred said and lunged over to sit next to Ish. The security guard relaxed as he saw us with someone white. We must be important enough after all. Ish finished his story in an hour. 'You want me to test him? Mate, you should show him to your selectors or something.' 'Trust me, if Indian selectors were up to the job, we wouldn't lose so many matches to a country with one-fiftieth the people. No offence.' 'We are a tough team to beat. There are several reasons for that,' Fred said slowly. 'And what would that do? What if I told he was good?' 'If you say the boy has world-class potential, I will give up my life to get him out there, I swear. Please, just bowl a few balls to him.' 'Mate, if I started doing that to everyone that came along...' 'I beg you, Fred. Sportsman to sportsman. Or rather, small sportsman to big sportsman.' Fred stared at Ish with unblinking blue eyes. Fred smiled at that. 'Mate, you Indians are good at this emotional stuff. Trust me, I gave up a lot for this game, too.' 'So you agree?'
    • Ish's smile froze. I can't do that. I can't wish against India.' 'Kidding mate. You guys are better at emotions. But we take the-piss better,' Australia won the match, but Ish didn't have time for remorse. He had to pad to adjust the black screen on the boundary. 'Bloody hell! Where did that come from?' Fred said. 'Being extra focused takes a lot out of him. He needs to recoup after a few big hits. I taught him to play a full innings in the neighbourhood but today...' 'Stress, mate, all that travel and you shove a scary white guy in his face,' Fred 'Thanks, Fred,' Ish said. I could see the pride in Ish's face. Yeah right, I thought. We had scraped to get second-class tickets for Goa. We 'Holy Moly,' Fred smiled, 'You guys! Some gumption. Anyway, I am no rich guy either like your Indian team players. So that's cool by me. But you could have got 'Well, one of my ex-girlfriends works with Qantas. Let me see what I can do,' Fred said as we walked back. 'It is just Ish and Ali right?' 'That's fine,' I said quickly. 'No, we are partners Fred. Either we all come together or not. We need four 'July works,' I said. 'We can't come in the summer vacation, that's peak sales season.' Twelve There is some junk around here. But it will be a great store for your shop,' Mama said, opening the door of a dilapidated godown. 'It will take weeks to organise this. Omi, we will need six lights on the ceiling,' I 'Nonsense. A father does not take rent from his son,' Mama said. I hated such form of benevolence. I had estimated the godown's rent as half of the shop. It had no frontage to make it suitable for retail. 'Baba, here you are. Let me put the tilak,' Dhiraj said. Dhiraj put a tilak on Mama's forehead. 'Meet your brothers, Mama said. 'Govind, Ishaan and, of course, Omi.' 'Hi,' I said. 'The cricket shop owners. I love cricket,' the boy said in a voice that had just broken into adolescence. 'So young, yet he helps me with my campaign after school,' Mama said with pride in his voice. 'Two trips to Ayodhya already. Put tilak on your brothers, son.' Dhiraj put tilak on our foreheads too. 'I have to finish puja. Ish bhaiya, you 'Flections are only six months away. In a few months, the rallies will start. I will repay your loan soon, too,' 1 said.  'I have had enough, Govind. I want to marry my daughters off and go back to my Kashmir.' 'I know Pandit-ji,' I said. He had told me this story a dozen nines.
    • 'Yes, but last week a nice family came to our house. They have two sons, bothbased in London. They will take both my daughters. Want to do it as early aspossible.' in one ceremony?' 'Yes, imagine the saving. But if it is one ceremony, they want it in style. I have sold the godown, but I need a buyer for the goods.' 'How much is the stock worth?' 'Two lakhs of sale value. Of which retailers like you took twenty per centmargin, and 1 kept another ten per cent. The true cost is a round one lakh fortythousand.' 'I'll take it for one lakh,' I said on impulse. Ish and Omi looked it me in surprise. What crazy scheme was I up to now? 'One lakh forty is the cost, and now you want to buy it off me at a loss?' i am buying everything.' 'Give me the money by next month, you can take it for one ten,' Pandit-ji said. I said one lakh. No more.' I said in a firm voice. 'When can you take the stock? The godown buyer needs possession fast,' Pandit-ji said. 'Today,' I said. When I told Ish and Omi about the deal later, worry lines crisscrossed theirforeheads. I saw a goldmine trade. India had performed great in the recentseries. The summer vacations would start in a few weeks. If I sold it all, I coulddouble my money. 'You know what you are doing, right?' Ish was doubtful. I looked at him. My risks had let him down before. Yet, you can't do business without taking bets. 'Yes, I do. Do you trust me?' 'Of course,' he said. 'But his daughter is gone.' 'What?' I said, puzzled. 'You had a thing for her,' Ish reminded me. 'Oh,' I said and looked away. You have no idea who has a thing for whom buddy, I thought. ★ Business exploded in the next three months. Every Indian kid played cricket inMay and June. Experts had called the India-Australia series historic. The actualmatches had taken place during the exams. The pent-up cricket fix came outproperly only in the vacations.
    • 'Is this how Harbhajan grips the ball?' a seven-year-old tried to fit the cricket ball into his tiny fist. 'Laxman and my batting styles are identical,' said another boy in the park. Customers at the temple shop tripled. Our wholesale business fared even better. Retailers never stopped calling. 'What? Pandit-ji is going back to Kashmir? Anyway, two boxes of balls in City Mall sports shop?' said one. 'I've taken over Pandit-ji's business. Call us, we deliver in two hours,' I told another large shop in Satellite. 'No, cash down only. Ahmedabad has no quality stock. You want now, pay now,' 1 said to a credit seeker.
    • I kept track of cash, Omi did deliveries, while Ish manned the shop. Whenschools reopened, he also looked after the monthly supply business. We nowsupplied to four schools. It took a national holiday on 15 August for us to have aquiet day at the shop. 'We should have kept kites. Look at the sky, that's easy money,' 1 said as I counted cash. 'Hurry up with the accounts,' Omi said. 'Mama wants us there by four.' Mama had planned his rally on Independence Day, the same day as Ali's dadhad planned a speech for his party's candidate. What's more, both the rallies tookplace at the same venue, at the opposite ends of Nana Park. 'We will get there by four. But guess what's our profit for the last four months,' I faced the two. Both shrugged. 'Seventy thousand,' I said. 'Seventy what?' Ish said. 'That's right. Out of which forty thousand will be used to repay our loans. The remaining thirty is ours,' I said and passed on a bundle of notes to each of them. 'Who decides how to cut this money?' Ish said. 'I do, any problem?' I said and realised I had come across too firm. 'Nope. So, how many loans do we have left?' 'Only twenty thousand more, if you count the interest. We will repay all by the end of the year,' I said and locked the safe. I kept the key in my shirt pocket. I stood up to do a stock inventory in the godown. 'Hey, Govind,' Ish said as he pulled my arm down. 'What?' 'Australia,' he said. 'C'mon, we have discussed it. Yes, it was nice to meet Fred and Ali is good. Just the visas cost three thousand each.' 'Fred is giving the tickets,' Ish said. 'But we will still spend a lot. I'd imagine at least ten thousand a head, or fortythousand for the four of us,' I said. I wanted to go as well, but I couldn't afford tospend so much on a junket. 'Here is my ten,' Ish said and tossed the bundle back to me, 'My contribution to the Australia fund.' I looked at Ish and Omi. These guys are nuts. Super nuts. 'Take this money home and toss the bundle at your dad. You need to.'
    • 'Dad is only going to find another reason to curse me,' Ish said. 'Here's mine.' Omi tossed in his bundle, too. 'C'mon Omi,' I said. 'I don't work for money. I'm with you guys and don't have to be a priest. That's good enough for me.' 'Well then let's save it for the business and...,' I was interrupted immediately. 'No, this money is for Australia only' 'Just when the business was looking up! Oh well,' I said and tossed my bundle too. 'There you go,' Ish said, 'we've got thirty grand done. Now if only you don't pay the loan this time.' 'No way Ish. The loan has to be repaid.' 'We will repay it - later,' Ish said. ish, you don't listen. What if the other expenses end up higher?' I sat down and sighed. My financially clueless partners looked at me like kids waiting for candy. 'All right. Who is the bloody travel agent, let me bargain with him,' I said. ★ Twice. They dug up the Ayodhya site twice.' Mama raised two lingers. Ish started cracking knuckles, punctuating Mama's words. Everyone applauded as Mama left the stage. Mama had candidate potential, I thought. 'But why?' I was bewildered. 'You promised to help Mama, remember?' Omi said, his silk badge fluttering in the breeze. I walked over to the other end of the park, to the other rally, The decorations here were less saffron and more white. 'Gujarat is a place of intelligent people,' Ali's dad was speaking, 'who know politics and religion are separate.' 'You a party member?' someone asked me. I shook my head. I guessed he was it's sabotage. The Hindu party did it,' said one person in the crowd. Tension filled the air. People talked about raiding the Hindu rally. 'Let's teach those guys a lesson,' a muscular man led the pack and lifted his chair. I wondered if I should run back and warn Mama. 'It's back. Ladies and gentlemen, please sit down. The power is back,' Ali's father came to the stage with folded hands. The fans whirred again. I stepped outside. I called a travel agent. 'We want to apply for four passports and visas to Australia. And don't give me a crazy price.' I returned to Ghulam Zian's speech. Ali's dad spotted me and came over, inaayat, Govind bhai. What brings you here? Welcome, welcome.' 'You speak well. You know Ish's plans to take Ali to Australia?' I said. 'He told me, Inshallah, you will go. Ali mentions Ishaan bhai's name at least ten times everyday. Sometimes I feel Ishaan bhai is more his father than me. Goa, Mama saw us from the stage and pointed a finger. A few people in the crowd 'Go away, Ali's abba,' I murmured without looking at him.
    • Omi came running to me and grabbed my hand. 'What the hell are you doing? I sent you to spy and you bring back another spy?' Ali's dad heard Omi and looked at me. I shook my head. He gave me an allknowing smile and turned to walk back. I don't give a fuck about this,' I shouted back. I doubt he heard me. Thirteen First Goa, now Australia. What business do you do?' said Vidya, her eyes the size of the new one-rupee coins. 'Fred kept his promise when Ish wrote to him again. We received tickets in the mail,' I said. We had finished class and I wanted to tell her about my impending do well. Don't let me down.' 'You also don't let me down,' she said. 'How?' 'Forget it. So where are you going in Australia?' 'Sydney. Fred is from there. Ali will practice in his academy for a week. When your brother sets his mind on something, he goes real far.' 'Unlike me. I can't focus. I'm sure I will flunk my medical entrance. I will be stuck in this hellhole home even in college. And then I will get married into I opened her guide books. 'Why are studies so boring? Why do you have to do something so uninteresting to become something in life?' 'Vidya, philosophical questions, no. Mathematical questions, yes,' I said and stood up to leave. 'Will you get me something from Australia?' 'Ask your brother, he will get you whatever you want.' I restacked the books. No way would I spend more cash than I needed to. 'Anyway, we are on a tight budget,' I clarified. She nodded as if she understood. ★ 'You guys tired or wanna hit practice?' were Fred's first words of welcome at the airport. 'Where is my bed?' I wanted to ask. I patted the khakras in my bag. We couldn't afford any cakes In this town.  Fred screamed, 'Five rounds everyone. Close to the boundary line, no shortcuts.' We came to the pitch after endurance training. I told them I was no player, but 'Rattle your dags, mate,' another fielder shouted at me. No one had to translate 'hurry up' to me. I threw the ball back. What was I doing in the middle of this Australian ground? 'He is asking if you are telling the truth,' I showed off my newfound linguistic I know what whinge means, can someone please explain the point of calling a batsman from thousands of miles away and not making him bat?' Fred smiled, 'Oh, you wanted your little discovery to bat. What for? So he can hit a few sixes. You want the kid to be a show-off from day one?' That's not what I...' 'But Fred...' 'You Indians have good talent, but the training - trust me on that mate.'  ‘Cheers!’ everyone cried. We clanged our dark brown bottles ofXXXX beer, also ho t,'Everyone laughed. Root meant, well, whatever. 'Check those honeys out,'
    • 'NCR is Number of Cans Required. The amount of beer yoi need to drink to want to have sex with a girl,' Fred said. 'Michael dated an ugly bitch once. He admits it, NCR 40 Roger said. Everyone roared with laughter. 'Here you go, hungry boys,' Hazel said in a flirtatious tone she passed the plates. The Australians mainly ate meat dishes. We had stuck to a pizza as it was the Ish sat next to Fred. I could not hear their conversation However, I saw Ish's frequent nods. I left the Aussie rooting stories and moved to Ish. My players will eventually figure out new ways to bowl to Ali. A determined mind can counter a gift. A champion has both.' Ish nodded. Hi Govind!' Fred had spotted me. 'Don't want rooting tips? We are just doing boring coach talk.' Ish's chest swelled with pride as Fred had called him equal in role. I remembered something. 'You mentioned a scholarship yesterday. What's 'Not always, thank goodness. We love to dominate opponents, hut also love a fight. When there's a challenge, it brings out the best.' 'What's the scholarship? Money?' Ish wanted to know. 'I know the feeling,' Ish said. Even though Ish's eyes aren't blue. they shone as 'Heaps. Michael Bevan, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Glenn 'And we can't,' Ish asked. 'Yeah, but,' Ish boxed his left palm with his right, 'imagine what would happen if we could have this kind of training in India.' coming down on his left ankle. As everyone rushed towards him, he lay on the ground clenching his teeth and holding back tears. 'Oh, get up. No time for drama,' Ish said. 'Easy, mate,' Fred said to Ish and signalled for a physio. Within minutes, a paramedic arrived and placed an ice pack on Ali's swollen ankle. 'Don't worry, he'll play in a few hours,' Ish said with a sheepish expression. 'You are big boys and tough players. You want to give it your all. But I can't emphasise it enough - respect your body's limits 'I do,' Ish said, feeling compelled to speak, 'but there was a single there. And that is what we Indians miss. We don't want to dive. We don't want to take risks.' 'The game is not about being macho. You can't get caught up in the moment so much that you forget.' 'Forget what?' I said. 'Forget that you got one fragile body. Lose it, and you are gone, You must 'I'd have been selling suits at a store for the rest of my life, as that is the only job I could get.' Ish apologised to Fred later in the locker room. 'I'd never let Ali get hurt.' 'The kid is good. I have a little surprise for him. You leave Sunday evening, ★ 'There must be a hundred women here," Ish whistled. And each one a knockout!' It was true. It was like all the beautiful women in the world emailed each other and decided to meet at Bondi. 'You want an umbrella?' I said as we parked ourselves at a scenic spot. Six topless women played Frisbee there. 'Wow, you can actually see their ni ... wow,' Omi pointed out helpfully. 'There are a hundred women here. So we have two hundred breasts to look at,'
    • I said and was teased for bringing maths everywhere. Having grown up in a place where sleeveless blouses cause scandals, tops-off is 'Check that blonde one, wow, she is massive,' I said. Oh well when in Disneyland, play. 'This is what heaven must look like. My eyes are tired from not blinking,' Omi said. If you began to miss a girl thousands of miles away even with naked breasts around you, something is seriously wrong. I opened my notebook that I carried
    • everywhere. I wanted to make a budget for the next three months. I found a longstrand of hair. It didn't belong to Ish or Omi or me. Only one person that I knewhad long hair. The notebook I had opened to forget her made me miss her evenmore. Omi came running to me. Water dripped from him and fell on my legs. I closed my book. 'The water is amazing. C'mon inside,' he said, catching his breath. 'No, I have work. I have to make a call,' I said. 'Call who?' 'Suppliers,' I said without making eye contact. 'From here? Isn't it expensive?' 'Short call, need some coins,' I said as I collected the change. 'You are working on Bondi? Whatever, I am diving in again,' Omi said and ran back to the sea. I collected my belongings and walked back to the beach shopping area. I found a public phone. I dialed her number.
    • Fourteen The phone rang twice. I disconnected it. I thought about leaving the booth. I re-inserted the coins and dialled again. 'Hello? Ishaan bhaiya?' Vidya said as shepicked up the phone. The phone gobbled two dollars worth of coins. I cut the phone again.Fuck, what the hell was I doing? I called again with fresh coins. She picked up instantly. 'Bhaiya, can you hear me?' I did the cheesiest thing possible. I just breathed. I must have come across as a pervert, but I could not find anything better to say. 'Govind?' she said, her voice careful. Had she guessed my breath? What is withthis kid? 'Hi,' I said. I could not contain myself any longer. 'Govind, wow. I sawthe international number. So, tell me?' Of all the phrases ever said on the phone,I hate 'tell me' the most. Do I have to tell something just because I have called?'Well, I...' 'How is Australia? Having fun? Tell me?' I could kill her if she said tell me again. But maybe I should just tell her something, I thought. 'Yes, it is nice. You will like this place,' I said. 'Which place? Tell more no? Where are you now?' 'Bondi beach. It is beautiful. Such a perfect place,' I said. Of course, I gavestupid descriptions. But you try to call a girl you are not supposed to call for thefirst time. To add to the nervousness, the phone consumed coins at a ferocious pace. I kept adding more change as the damn phone ate a dollar every thirty seconds. 'Wow. I have never seen a real beach in my life. How is it? Does the water never end? Can you keep looking until forever?' 'Yeah, and the sky is endless too.' Duh! Say something more than borrowing from her phrases. 'Where are Ish and Omi?' 'They are in the water. I am in a booth,' I said. She asked the one question I did not want her to ask. 'So, how come you called?' 'Oh nothing. How is the preparation going? Integration is quite important you know.' 'You called about integration?' 'Well, and other...' 'Do you miss me?' 'Vidya.'
    • 'What?' 'Don't ask silly questions.' 'I miss you. A lot actually,' she said. Her voice became heavy. 'Ok, that's well, that's ... wow,' I said, champion of nonsensical, monosyllabic responses. 'Yeah, and not as a tutor. As a friend. As a very good friend.' A 'very good friend' is a dangerous category with Indian girls. From here youcan either make fast progress. Or, if you play it wrong, you go down to the lowestcategory invented by Indian women ever rakhi brother. Rakhi brother reallymeans 'you can talk to me, but don't even freaking think about anything else you
    • bore'. A little voice in my mind shouted at me, 'tell her you miss her stupid, or you'll be getting rakhis for the rest of your life.' 'I do. If you were here, Sydney would be more fun.' 'Wow, that's the nicest thing you ever said to me.' I kept quietWhen you have said something nice, don't be in a hurry to speak 'I have an idea. Get me some sand from the beach you are on right now. That 'Yeah, bring me a matchbox full of sand. And put some feelings in it if there is space,' she said. The phone display blinked. It threatened me to feed it with more money or my 'Back in three days. I miss you too,' I said and cleared my throat. Wow, I could Beep. Beep. Beep. A stupid Australian company called Telstra ruined my first romantic moment. 'Hey, what are you doing?' Omi said as he emerged from the waves like the world's ugliest mermaid. 'Nothing, what are you doing this side? The waves are better at the other end,' I said. 'I came to meet you. Can I borrow a few coins for a Coke. I feel thirsty.' 'Coins are finished. Have some cash left for today, but let's use it to eat lunch.' 'Finished?' Omi said. 'Yeah,' I said, irritated. I don't like it when people less sensible than me I looked at him dumbstruck. What a random guess. And what the hell is his 'I've seen the way you guys look at each other,' he said as he tried to catch up with me. 'Get lost,' I said and walked faster. We came to Campbell Parade, a strip of bars and cafes near the beach. 'And I've noticed. You never talk about her since you started teaching her,' he said. I went inside 'Hog's Breath Cafe'. After five days in this country the name didn't seem weird anymore. We sat facing each other. I lifted the menu to cover my face and avoid 'You don't hit upon your best friend's sister. You just don't. It is against the protocol.' 'Protocol? What is this, the army? And I didn't hit on her. She hit upon me,' I said. 'But you let her hit upon you. You let her.' 'Well, it wasn't exactly like being hit. A noisy gang played on the pool table near us. I had five minutes until Ish came back. Thoughts came to me. Will Omi say something stupid to him? No, Omi was not that stupid. Omi and Ish walked in laughing. Ok, all is good. 'Hog's Breath? Can you think of a worse name for a restaurant?' Ish said and laughed. ‘I can,’ Omi said. 'Don't say it. Anyway, where's the toilet? I have to go siphon the...,' Ish said. 'Over there,' I interrupted him and pointed to the corner. I had enough of Aussies for a lifetime. 'Are you intimate with her?' Omi continued. 'Did you say anything to him?' I 'Yes, there is a "we-just-look" stage, the most common stage in the old city. Then a "we-just-talk" stage. Then a "hold-hand" stage. Then a...' 'It's not like that. It's different between us.' 'Fuck, that's an advanced stage. When you think your relationship is different
    • 'Well, it's nothing really. Just good friends,' I said and looked towards the toilet. 'Just good friends should be a banned phrase. There is nothing more Ish came out of the toilet. He cracked a joke with the Aussie guys playing pool. I turned to Omi. 'I don't want to talk about it. Don't worry, I won't do anything stupid. She 'Ish,' I screamed across the bar, 'What do you want? Garlic bread is the cheapest item on the menu.' 'Whatever, I trust you,' he screamed back as he continued to play pool with the Aussie guys. His last phrase bobbed up and down in my head like the surfboards on Bondi beach.  These houses are huge,' I said as we drove past a rich neighbourhood called Double Bay. 'What?' Ish said. 'What do you play, that's what they ask,' Fred said. 'I love Australia. I wish India approached sports with the same spirit.' Ish leaned forward. 'Here sports is a national obsession,' Fred said. 'What's the obsession in your country then?' 'There's a lot of people. And there's a lot of obsessions. That's the problem,' Ish said. 'But religion and politics are pretty big. And them together, even bigger,' I added. I stay out of that stuff. Aussie politics are a joke anyway,' Fred said, killing the engine. 'Good morning Mr Greener and Mr Cutler.' Fred introduced us to the two older men. 'And this is the talented boy?' Mr Greener patted All's back. 'Yep, as talented as the man above sends them,' Fred said as we settled at the table. 'These are the gentlemen who helped me get your tickets. Not| my exgirlfriend,' Fred said and winked at us. 'What?' Ish said as we understood the purpose of Fred inviting us. It wasn't to just play for a week. 'Remember my phone calls from Goa? To these gentlemen,' Fred said. I saw Ish s face tighten in anticipation. Were they going to sponsor Ali? 'If he is as good as Fred and his boys who played with you say you are,' Mr Greener said, 'we should do whatever we can to help' "Thank you, thank you,' Ish said as Fred shushed him. Over-excitement was a constant problem with Ish. His sister as well, Maybe it was hereditary. 'So?' Ish said. 'Under AIS rules, the scholarship holder must be an Australian resident, or at least a person in the process of becoming a resident' 'Can't we make an exception?' I said. Omi was too busy eating to talk. Omi and Ali had hardly spoken during the entire trip. The Aussie accent stumped them. 'Well, the only way we can do it is this,' Mr Cutler said and took out a file. He opened it and laid out some forms on the table. 'Or Cutler had to pull serious strings at the immigration department for this,' Mr Greener laughed in a friendly manner.
    • Ali and Omi stopped eating as they saw the forms on the table. 'He'll become Australian?' Omi said. 'He'll become a champion,' Fred said. 'You love Australia.' Fred winked at Ish. 'Think about the child's future. From what I hear, his means are rather, er, limited," Mr Cutler said. They meant poor. I nodded. Ali's life would transform. 'They have a point,' I told Ish, who still looked shell-shocked. 'Why don't you ask Ali first? It is his life and his decision,' Mr Greener said.
    • 'Yes, no pressure,' Fred said, turning over both his palms. We explained the offer in simple terms to Ali while a waiter cleared our plates. 'So, Ah ... what do you want?' Ish said. 'If I make it to the team, who will I play for?' Ah said. Australia,' Mr Cutler said. 'But I'm an Indian,' Ali said. 'But you can become an Australian as well. We are a multicultural society,' Mr Greener said. 'No,' Ali said. 'What?' 'I am an Indian. I want to play for India. Not for anyone else.' 'But son, we will give you the same respect as your own country, And some good coaching,' Mr Greener said. 'I have a good coach,' Ali said and looked at Ish. Ish beamed at his proudest moment ever. 'It will be tough to make it in your country. Your coach knows that,' Mr Cutler said. Ali spoke slowly after a pause. 'It's ok if I don't become a player, but it's not ok if I am not an Indian,' Ali said. Maybe he never meant it to be profound, but that was his deepest statement yet. 'But,' Mr Cutler said. He leaned forward and put his hand on Ali's shoulder. Ali slid next to Ish and hid against him. The officials tried for another half an hour. They asked if we could speak toAli's parents, but realised this wasn't going to work after all. I maintained thepolite conversation. 'We are sorry. We do realise that this is a big, big honour,' I said, 'sorry Fred. What you have done for us is huge.' 'No worries mate. Your kid is good and he knows it. If you can make a billionpeople proud, why bother with us down under?' Fred said and laughed. He didn'tshow if he was upset. Sportsman spirit, I guess. We saw the officials off to their car. 'Never mind mate. Maybe next time, next life in this case. You could beAustralian, who knows?' Mr Greener said as he slid into the driving seat of hissilver Honda Accord. 'I don't want to,' Ali said, his face emerging from hiding behind Ish. 'What?' 'I don't want to be Australian in my next life. Even if I have a hundred next
    • lives, I want to be Indian in all of them,' Ali said. A plane flew above us. I looked up in the sky. I was glad I was going home tonight. Fifteen Vidya. Vidya. Vidya - her name rang like an alarm in my head. I ran through tomato sellers and marble playing kids to reach her house on time. Where is Vidya?'Govind,' Vidya's dad opened the door. I froze. Why does every male in the family of the girl you care about instil a fear in your soul? 'Uncle, Vidya ... tuitions,' I said. He spoke again as I climbed the steps.‘How is she? Will she make it to the medical entrance?’ 'She is a bright student,' I said in a small voice. ‘Not like her useless brother,’ uncle said. He buried himself into the newspaper, dismissing me. I climbed up to the terrace. Vidya stood there with an air-hostess smile. 'Welcome to my al fresco tuition place.' She went and sat on a white plastic chair with a table and an extra chair in front 'I had so many doubts,' she said, flipping through her notebook. Smoke came out from under the table. 'Hey, what's this?' I said. 'Mosquito coil,' she said. 'You brought my gift,' she said to break the pause, or rather to fill up the 'Blue Orange Cafe, cool,' she said. She took the box and slid it open with her thin fingers. 'Wow, an Australian beach in my hands,' she said. She held it up with pride as if I had presented the queen's stolen diamonds. 'I feel silly. I should have brought something substantial,' I said. 'No, this is perfect. Look there is a tiny shell inside,' she signalled me to lean I sat back upright. Water droplets had passed from her hair to mine. Half the ’'Yeah, five dollars and sixty cents,' I said and regretted talking like an accountant the next second. 'There you go. Anyway, life's best gifts are free,' she said and pulled her hair not my thing, but...,' I said and turned away. I couldn't talk when I looked at her. Or rather, I couldn't talk when she looked at me. 'It's ok, you don't have to be sorry,' she said. 'It's not ok. I don't have time for emotions,' I said in a firm voice, 'and this is not the place anyway. My best friend's sister? What the fuck ... oops, sorry.' She giggled. 'Two months,' she wiggled two fingers. 'Two months and I will turn eighteen. Time to bring me another nice gift. Anyway, please continue.' 'Well, whatever. The point is, significant reasons exist for me not to indulge in illogical emotions. And I want...' She stood up and came to my side. She sat on the flimsy armrest of my plastic chair. She put her finger on my mouth. She cupped my face in her palms. 'You don't shave that often eh? Ew,' she said. She threw a tiny spit ball in the air.
    • 'What?' I said and looked at her. 'I think a mosquito kissed me,' she said and spit again, 'is it still there in my mouth?' She opened her mouth and brought it close. Her lips were eight millimetres apart from mine. Soon the gap reduced to zero. I don't know if I came towards her or she came towards me. The tiny distance made it difficult to ascertain who took the initiative. I felt something warm on my lips and realised that we have come too dose, or maybe too far. We kissed again. The mosquitoes on our respective heads re-joined. 'It's fine, it's fine,' she kept reassuring me and kissing me. We broke away from each other because even passionate people need oxygen. 'I am turning eighteen. I can do whatever I want,' she said. The loudspeaker of a campaign auto continued in the background. 'I can vote in that election,' she 'You'll have to go down?' I said as I held her hand on instinct. A voice in me still protested, but now that voice had no volume. 'No, I have a secret stash under the water tank. Come,' she said and pulled at my hand. 'Welcome to Vidya's rooftop cafe" sir,' she said and passed me a cup. I looked at her. She is too beautiful to study maths. Maths is for losers like me. I took a sip. My lips still felt the sensation of her lips. I rested on my elbow but the concrete surface hurt. 'I'll get cushions next time,' she said. 'It's fine,' I said. We finished our coffee and came out. We switched on the terrace bulb. I flipped through the textbook to forget the kisses and coffee. The symbols of integration She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. 'Thanks for the gift, the gift of true 'What a good, responsible boy. Ish hasn't learnt anything from him,' Vidya's father was saying to his wife as I shut the door behind. ★ I could have done my accounts much faster if I didn't have the parallel SMS conversation. My phone beeped a fifth time. 'Who the hell are you SMSing?' Omi asked from the counter. 'Nothing, I am bargaining with a supplier,' I said. I turned the phone to silent My phone flashed again. I had saved Vidya's number as 'Supplier Vidyanath' in my phone, in case anyone picked it up. Also, I deleted her messages as soon as I read them. 'I hope you are staying away from Ish's sister?' Omi said. My hands froze as I manipulated the messages. I told myself, It is a coincidence. Omi doesn't know who I am messaging to. Be cool. I replied to the SMS. Ok, u win. will get a small 1 now let me work, you study 2 I kept the phone aside. Smiley faces had entered my life. 'I teach her, Omi. Just a few months for her entrance exams,' I said. I dug myself deep into the paperwork. 'Does she...,' Omi began. 'Can I do the accounts or should we gossip about my students?' I glared at Omi.
    • Mama came running to our shop. 'Switch on the TV fast.' 'What the...,' Ish said as he returned to the shop. 'Muslim terrorists, I guarantee you,' Mama said as his phone rang. He saw the Bittoo Mama stepped away from us. Parekh-ji gave him tips on the elections next week. 'What's up?' Omi asked Mama as he ended his call. 'Hasmukh-ji takes everything for granted. He doesn't pound the streets of his constituency.' 'Parekh-ji is not happy?' Omi said. 'He is fine with me. He isn't too worried. The bye-election is only for two seats in Gujarat The real elections are next year.' 'Mama, so next year,' Omi said and patted Mama's back, 'we will have an MLA in the family.' The temple bells rang to signify time for the final aarti. Omi and Mama stood up to leave. 'I have to show Parekh-ji I deserve it. Winning this seat will help,' Mama said. 'Your phone flashed. Is it on silent?' Ish said. He collected all the invoices scattered on the ground. We were closing the shop for the night. 'Oh, must be by mistake,' I said and picked it up, 'a supplier is sending me messages'. I opened supplier Vidyanath's message. when I study, I think kisses u and only u,v misses I put the phone in my pocket 'What? Trying to sell you something?' Ish said. 'Yes, wooing me, hard,' I said as I locked the cashbox.  I knew it, that old man wouldn't listen,' Mama said. His group of a dozen twenty-something supporters held their heads down. heThe secular party workers jeered at Mama's team. Tempers rose as a few of Mama ran to Parekh-ji. He lay down on the ground and 'I am your guilty man. Punish me,' Mama said, his voice heavy. Parekh-ji placed both his hands on Mama's head. 'Get up, Bittoo.' 'No, no. I want to die here. I let the greatest man down,' Mama continued to bawl. Mama walked towards Parekh-ji's ear, his head still down. 'Come son,' Parekh-ji said to Omi. Ish and I looked at each other. Maybe it was time for Ish and me to vanish. 'Can Ish and Govind come along? They came to Gandhinagar,' Omi said. I of Ahmedabad, in the village of Sarkhej. Along with a craft museum and village courtyards, there is an ethnic restaurant that serves authentic Gujarati cuisine.
    • We took a semi-private room with seating on the clay floor. Parekh-ji's securitystaff sat outside, near the puppet show for kids. Their guns made the guest'simportance known to the waiters and insured us good service. Within minutes,we had two dozen dishes in front of us. 'Eat, and don't get so sentimental about politics. Emotional speeches are fine, but in your mind always think straight,' Parekh-ji lectured Mama. We gorged on the dhokla, khandvi, ghugra, gota, dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks. I felt full even before the main course arrived. 'Now, listen, Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas, 'things are not as they seem. Hasmukh-ji's defeat has a back story. We expected it.' 'What?' Mama said while Omi, Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food. 'Hasmukh-ji's seniority in the party earned him a ticket. But he is part of theold school. The same school as the current chief minister. Our high command inDelhi is not happy with them.' 'They are not?' Mama echoed stupidly. 'No. We might be a Hindu party, but it doesn't mean we preach religion all dayand do no work. Gujarat is a place of business, it is not a lazy place. The highcommand did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. Peoplelost a lot in that, I know you boys did too,' he turned to us. We nodded. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. 'The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. The old school put theircandidate. We knew they were weak. Of count, hardworking people like Bittootried their best But, a dud candidate is a dud candidate. So we lost both theseats. With the main election in twelve months, the entire party machinery isshaken up. And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change.' 'What change?' Mama said. "They are replacing the chief minister.' 'What? For losing two seats?' Mama said, 'the total number of seats is...' 'A hundred and eighty plus,' Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati, 'but like I said, it gave a reason to change. And Gujarat is vital to our party. We can't afford to lose it.' We gorged on the dhokla, khandvi, ghugra, gota, dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks. I felt full even before the main course arrived. 'Now, listen,1 Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas, 'things are not as they seem. Hasmukh-ji's defeat has a back story. We expected it.' 'What?' Mama said while Omi, Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food. 'Hasmukh-ji's seniority in the party earned him a ticket. But he is part of theold school. The same school as the current chief minister. Our high command inDelhi is not happy with them.' 'They are not?' Mama echoed stupidly.
    • 'No. We might be a Hindu party, but it doesn't mean we preach religion all dayand do no work. Gujarat is a place of business, it is not a lazy place. The highcommand did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. Peoplelost a lot in that, I know you boys did too,' he turned to us. We nodded. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. 'The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. The old school put theircandidate. We knew they were weak. Of count, hardworking people like Bittootried their best But, a dud candidate is a dud candidate. So we lost both the
    • seats. With the main election in twelve months, the entire party machinery is shaken up. And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change.' 'What change?' Mama said. "They are replacing the chief minister.' 'What? For losing two seats?' Mama said, 'the total number of seats is...' 'A hundred and eighty plus,' Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati, 'but like I said, it gave a reason to change. And Gujarat is vital to our party. We can't afford to lose it.' 'No dessert here or what?' Parekh-ji said as there was a delay after the main courses were cleared. 'Who will get the aamras for the sahib?' Mama screamed at the waiters. Sixteen Sixteen'No bag please,' I said as I kept the cake box in my rucksack of books. I kept the rucksack upright in my lap until I made it to Vidya's place. I snuck the rucksack between my arm and side body to keep it horizontal. 'India's batting - Ganguly and Tendulkar. Seventy no loss after ten overs,' Ish said and screamed, 'Mom, sauce!' Uncle picked up the ketchup bottle from the dining table and banged it as hard 'Some people are serious about their lives...,' Ish's dad ranted while still reading his paper. Ish pressed the volume button on the TV remote as loud as possible in protest. 'His mother has made him into a monster,' Ish's dad said and left for his bedroom. Tendulkar struck a four and the monster clapped. 'Don't worry, dad's fine,' Ish said as he saw my nervous expression. 'Hey, wish her and all. She'll like it. I forgot this morning.' Ish grabbed a sandwich and topped it with lots of chips and ketchup. He took a big bite. My friend had found bliss. I had to find mine. I climbed the stairs, my heart beating fast. 'Happy birthday, Miss Eighteen,' I greeted as I shut the terrace door. She wore a shiny red kurti and white pants. The choice of clothes was a bit over the top but it was ok on a birthday I guess. 'Did you know eighteen is the only number that is twice the sum of its digits?' 'You like chocolate. They have the best.' I opened the box. She stood up from 'This thing,' she said and came forward to kiss me. We kissed during almost every class since the last month, so it wasn't a big deal. Sometimes we kissed She entwined her hands with mine and looked at me. 'You tell me,' she said as 'How?' she said as she tugged my hand. 'How will I even get the application fee to apply? How will I support myself in Mumbai?' 'Your parents will eventually come around. They will pay for your studies. Until 'Until then I will support you,' I said. We looked into each other's eyes. She 'Is it possible to run away and not piss off my parents?' 'You can minimise the pissed-off state, but can't make it zero. We can only optimise life, never solve it,' I said as we came to a corner. 'Can I tell you something weird?' 'What?'
    • 'When you talk hardcore maths, like these terms that totally go over my head,' 'Vidya, your boldness...,' I said, shocked. 'Makes you blush, right?' she said and laughed. 'So we are cutting this cake or what?' I said to change the topic. 'Of course, follow me to Café Vidya,' she said. 'Music?' she said, her face pretty as a song. I nodded. 'I'll put on Boyzone, my favourite,' she said. I took out the packet of eighteen 'Both my parents have bad knees. They never climb up to the terrace. And Ish, well there is a match on.' We heard two consecutive roars in the pol. The Indian innings had reached the slog overs. No matter what they tell us The music continued. I don't know if it was the candlelight or the birthday mood or the cushions or what. But it was then that I made the second mistake of my life. She took off her kurti. 'Remove your hand, they won't run away.' 'Huh?' I said. 'How else do I remove this?' she said, pointing to her bra. I moved my hands to her stomach as she took the bra off and lay on top of me. 'Take it off,' she said, tugging at my shirt. At this point, I could have jumped off the terrace if she asked me to. I followed her instruction instantly. 'Are you going to go down on me?' she said, after she had done the same to me. I went down, and came back up. We looked into each other's eyes as we became one. The screams from the pols continued as England lost wickets. What have you done Mr Govind Patel?'See, I still have goosebumps,' she said and lifted her arm. Little pink bumps dotted her flawless, fair skin. Fuck, fuck, fuck, Govind, what are you doing right now? Touching her goosebumps? The voice in me grew stronger. 'Hey, I'm the girl. Let me do this part,' she said. I looked into her moist eyes. I sat up and dressed. We came outside as the moon lit up the terrace. I 'Hey, you missed the best part. We will win this. Stay on,' Ish said as I reached downstairs. 'No, I'm quite tired. I'll watch it at home,' I said as I reached the main door. 'Eat dinner, son,' Ish's mother said as she set the table. 'I've made special dishes for Vidya's birthday. 'No aunty, my mummy has cooked at home as well,' I said. I had already celebrated her daughter's birthday. 'Such a good boy,' she said fondly as I left the house. Seventeen 'I'll fall,' Omi warned, dangling his right foot off the stool. 'It's not my fault. The stool has creaky legs,' I said. 'January 26 preparations? Keep it up,' Mama's entry distracted us all. Omi We grabbed a samosa each. 'Like today is 21 Feb, only five days to my period. Hence, it is a safe day.' 'It's safe anyway. I used a condom,' I said as I shifted my cushion for comfort. 'Oh? So now you trust physics over mathematics?' she said and giggled. She flipped over to rest on her elbows and poked her toes into my shins. 'Are you still embarrassed to buy condoms?' 'I get them from an unknown chemist in Satellite. And I have enough now for a
    • 'Goodnight aunty,' I said to Vidya's mom. I always hated that part, the point when aunty offered me something to eat or asked me why I worked so hard. of accident can happen. And I found out exactly five days later. ★ 'There is something you should know,' she said. 'What's up?' I said and bought a packet of groundnuts. 'Something is late,' she said. it freaks them out. 'Really? How?' I said, struggling for words. 'What do you mean how? It should have happened yesterday, the 25th, but hasn't.' 'Are you sure?' 'Excuse me? I wouldn't know if it has happened?' she said and stopped to look at me. 'No, I meant are you sure it was due on 25th Feb?' 'I am not that bad at maths.' 'Ok but...,' I said. I had created the problem. I had nothing of value to offer in the discussion. I offered her groundnuts. She declined. 'But what?' she said. 'But we used protection. And how does it work with girls? Are they always on time?' I asked. Nothing in the world was always exactly on time. 'Mine are. Normally I don't care. But now that I am with you, even a slight Another P-word to freak men out. No, she did not say that 'You can't be pregnant?' I said. Sweat erupted on my forehead like I had jogged thrice around the ATIRA lawns. I rubbed my hands and took deep breaths. 'Why not?' she retorted, her face tense. 'And can you be supportive and not hyperventilate.' Make her laugh - bad idea,{b)(c)(d)I slid closer to her on the bench and embraced her. She hid her face on my can't you get pregnant at the same time?' Because I am biologically male, I wanted to say. But I think she knew that. 'Listen Vidya, we used the rhythm method, we used protection I know it is not hundred per cent but the probability is so low...' Vidya just shook her head and cried. Maths is always horrible at reassuring people. Nobody believed in probability in emotional moments. A family walked by. The man carried a fat boy on his shoulders. I found it symbolic of the potential burden in my life. The thought train started again. I am twenty-two years old. I have big dreams for my business. I have my mother to Why can't men stop noticing beauty, ever?'Let's wait for a day or two more. We'll see what we have to do then,' I said as we reached the auto stand. 'You tell me, what do you want to do?' When women ask you for your choice, they already have a choice in mind. And if you want to maintain sanity, you'd better choose the same. I looked into her eyes to find out the answer she expected from me. I couldn't find it. 'I don't know. This is too big a news for me. I can't say what we will do. 'Here, take this maths guide to show at home,' I said and passed her a book
    • when she reached home. Vidya and I exchanged ten 'are you asleep' and 'not yet' messages that night.  'What's up?' Ish said as I laid my head on the cashbox early morning. 'Nothing. Couldn't sleep well,' I said. The next night I did get some sleep. I sprang out of bed early morning to SMS her again. I had an SMS from her already, 'a bit of pain, nothing else'. I threw the phone away. I wanted to reach the shop early to take out supplies from the godown. Somehow, I hated being late anymore. Eighteen Are trains ever on time?' Mama's loud voice interrupted us while we were at work. Ish dragged out a heavy box of wickets from the godown. 'Mama, you here so early?' Omi said. Mama kept two pink paper boxes on the wicket box. He had a tikka from the morning prayers on his forehead. 'So leftover breakfast for us?' Omi said and laughed. 'They are absolutely fresh. I'll get more when they come. Eat them while they are still hot, come Ish, Govind,' Mama said. 'Didn't know you boys come here so early,' Mama said. The shop's clock said eight o' clock. 'Had some work in the godown,' I said and took a bite of a kachori. It tasted for the day. The shop didn't open until nine. We could eat in peace. 'Third round of tea? Ok? Yeah good,' Mama said and called for the tea-boy Mama's phone ring interrupted me. Mama picked up the phone. His face 'Wait,' Omi said and went inside the shop. He came out with a notebook. 'Here, I had noted the PNR number and other details while making the ... why are you praying while talking to me? Hey, hello...' The person on the other end hung up the phone. Mama tried to call the number back but no one picked up. 'What's going on?' I said. 'I don't know. I have to ... I'll go to the station,' Mama said. 'I'll come with you?' Omi said. 'No, it's fine. I had to go anyway. I'll find out,' Mama said and left. Two hours later the whole country had found out. 'Stop flipping channels," I screamed at Omi, 'they are all showing the same thing.' We stopped at NDTV. The newsreader repeated the news for the tenth time. 'Can you tell us what exactly is going on sir?' the newsreader said. 'We are still getting reports. But at around 8.30 in the morning Sabarmati 'What mob is this? Does it look premeditated?' the newsreader asked. The railway official avoided controversy. 'The police has arrived and are investigating the matter. Only they can comment on this.' Ish, Omi and I watched TV non-stop. We cancelled all deliveries for the day. 'Mama's not picking up, I've tried ten times,' Omi said and threw his phone aside. 'The mob had Muslims. They had an argument with the Hindu kar sevaks and burnt everyone - women, children,' the tea vendor said. 'We have fifty-eight people dead and over twenty injured, as per reports from the Godhra hospital,' the newsreader said, 'and we have just received neighbouring mithai shop owner. 'Early morning in a railway station. Look at their guts,' another shopkeeper
    • said. Omi came out of the temple with his father, mother and Mama's wife. All shopkeepers, Ish and I gathered around them. 'Get my Dhiraj. I say get my Dhiraj,' Mama's wife's wails echoed against the temple walls. 'I'll go to the station and find out,' Omi said. He tried Mama's phone again, but it did not connect. 'Don't go, the city is not safe,' the florist said. Omi's mother clutched Omi's hand. 'There could be a curfew soon. Let's shut shops and go home,' a florist said. The shopkeepers dispersed. Dhiraj's mother's tears didn't stop. 'Don't worry, Mama will call back. The news is sketchy. We don't know what We went back to the shop. We had to customers that morning, and didn't expect any more. 'Do you have gloves Ish bhaiya? Mine are worn out,' Ali's voice startled us. We 'You haven't seen the news?' I said. 'We don't have TV,' he said. 'And your practice,' Ali said and laughed, 'hey why are you shutting down the shop? My gloves...' 'Nothing, you come with us. Don't be alone at home,' Ish said as he downed the 'You want to come to my place?' Ish said to me. We walked out of the temple compound. I wanted to see Vidya. But it wasn't the best time, and Vidya would not be in the best mood anyway. I wondered if I should SMS her again. 'No, my mother would be worried too,' I said. She'd probably he in the kitchen, preparing dough for the evening dhokla. 'Hey what's up Omi? Got in touch with Mama?' I said and rubbed my eyes. The phone's clock showed it was 5.30 p.m. 'I lost my brother Govind. He died on the spot,' Omi said and his voice broke. told me not to tell his wife or anyone else. Like they haven't guessed.' 'It's horrible. Omi, it's horrible,' I said. I shuddered to think we almost took that 'What? I became sick of staying at home all day. And dad gave me dirty looks Leave now before it gets dark,' I said to Omi. 'Mom, don't cook for me. We'll make something at the bank,' I said as I left the house.  'Trouble has started in the city. I heard a mob burnt two buses down in Jamalpur,' Omi said. We came to the tuition area of the backyard to have our dinner. Omi had cooked potato curry and rice. 'Rumour or true?' I said. 'True, a local TV channel showed it as I left,' Omi said, It's strange at home. Mami is still praying for Dhiraj's safety.' Omi's body shook. He broke into tears. I held his hand as he hugged me. Ali looked at us. I smiled back at him. I went to the room where we kept books and brought back threePh an to m comics. I gave them to Ali as he happily read when Ish's phone rang. It was his dad. Ish hesitated to pick it up and did so only 'Ok ... Ok ... listen, I am at the bank. We are safe here. Yes, I promise we won't 'That is what dad is hoping. But it could be a Hindu mob. Dad said stay wherever you are.' 'Our moms will worry. Govind's would too,' Omi said.
    • 'Call them,' Ish said, I can't take Ali to his home too. His parents don't even have a phone,' Ish said. Omi dropped three cards. 'Three aces,' Omi said with an extra-straight face. He sucks at bluff. I tapped the cards. I wondered whether to turn them. Loud chants disrupted my thought. 'Come inside,' Ish tugged hard at my sleeve. We went downstairs. My body shivered. 'It's fine. Let's go to sleep. The police will come soon. By morning it will be ok,' Ish said as he put his arm around me. 'Can we sleep together?' I said. Yes, I admit it, I felt super scared. I took three quilts and slept in the middle next to Ali. Omi and Ish surrounded us. We switched off the lights at 10.30 p.m. At 11.30 p.m. I woke up again. We heard a shattering noise. Someone shook We went downstairs. I switched on the main lobby lights. Ish looked through
    • Nineteen ‘My sons,’ Mama screamed. We unlocked the bank's main gate and opened it slightly. Mama opened hisarms. He held a fire-torch in one hand and a trishul in the other. I expected himto cry when he saw Omi, but he didn't. He came close to us for a hug. He took thethree of us in his arms. 'My son, the bastards killed my son,' Mama said as hewouldn't let go of us. I looked into his cold eyes. He didn't look like a father who had just lost hisson. Alcohol and marijuana smells reeked from his mouth. Mama appeared morestoned than grieved. ‘My brother, Mama,' Omi said and held back his tears. 'Don't cry. Nobody will cry today,' Mama screamed and released us. He turnedto address the mob, 'we Hindus have only cried. While these mother fuckers comeand keep killing us over the centuries. In a Hindu country, in a Hindu state, thefuckers can come and burn our kids in broad daylight. And we don't do anything.We just cry. Come rape us, loot us and burn us. They think they can terrorise thewhole fucking world but we will have no guts to do anything.' 'Kill them,' the mobreplied. The shaky body movements of the mob showed their intoxication. Byblood or alcohol, I could not tell. 'But the bastards made a big mistake. They tried to rape Gujarat today. Motherfuckers thought these vegetarian people, what will they do? Come let's show themwhat we can do?' Mama paused to take a sip from his hip flask. We stepped back towards the bank. 'I hope they won't expect us to join. I won't,' I whispered in Ish's ear. 'Nor am I, and let's take Omi inside too,' Ish said. We told Omi to hide behind us. In a delicate movement, Ish shut the bank gate again and locked it. 'What are you whispering?' Mama said and almost lost his balance. His fire torch fell on the floor. The mob cleared around it. He lifted the torch back. 'Where is my other son? Open this gate,' Mama said as he couldn't see Omi. 'What do you want Mama? Can we talk tomorrow?' I said. 'No tomorrow, I want something today.' 'Mama, you know Omi needs to get home...,' I said. Mama brushed me away. I don't want Omi. I don't want any of you. I have many people to help me kill the bastards.' Ish came next to me. He held my hand tight. 'So leave us Mama,' Ish said. 'I want the boy. I want that Muslim boy,' Mama said. 'What?' Ish said. 'Eye for an eye. I'll slaughter him right here. Then I will cry for my son. Get the fucking boy,' Mama said and thumped Ish's chest. Ish struggled to stand straight.
    • The blow torches lit up the dried grass on the entrance of the bank. A thick lock kept the gate shut and the mob outside. 'Mama, you are drunk. There is nobody here,' Omi said. 'You lose a son first. Then I will tell you about being drunk,' Mama said, 'and I know he is here because he is not at his home.' 'Mama, your dispute is with his father,' I said.
    • 'I've taken care of his father,' Mama said, 'and his whore stepmother. I killed them with this.' Mama lifted his trishul to show us. The tips had blood on them. I looked at Ish and Omi. We made an instant decision. We ran inside the bank. I shut the main entrance door and bolted it. I sucked in long, deep breaths. 'Relax, relax ... we have to think,' Ish said. 'I will join them and take them away,' Omi said. 'No, it won't work,' Ish said. 'They killed his parents?' I said and continued to breathe fast. The mob banged against the gate. They didn't like our vanishing manoeuvre. I wondered how long the lock would hold. I sat down on the couch. I had to think despite the deafening gate noise. 'What are our options,' I said. 'We can try to negotiate with them,' I said. Nobody responded. 'They have madness in their eyes, they won't talk,' Omi said. 'We could try and escape. Or fight them,' Ish said. 'You want to fight forty people who are under a spell to murder?' I said. 'Then what?' Ish said. I looked at Ish. For the first time in my life, I had seen him scared. I kept looking at him hoping he would consider all options. Even the worst one. 'Don't even think about giving up Ali,' Ish said to me as his pointed finger poked my chest. 'What else can we offer them?' I said. 'Money?' Ish said as his body shivered, 'you say people always talk if there is money involved.' 'We don't have that much money,' I said. 'But we will make it and give it to them,' Ish said. 'For Mama it is not about the money,' Omi said. 'That is true,' Ish said, 'but if we buy the rest of them, Mama won't be able to do it alone. We need to scatter the crowd.' I paced around the room. We didn't have money. Yes, the rioters would be poor people in the neighbourhood with nothing to lose. But still, how and who would do the talking? 'You are the best at money talk,' Ish said. 'It could backfire. How do I separate Mama from them?' I said. 'I'll do that,' Omi said.
    • We opened the main door again. The crowd stopped banging their trishuls at the front gate lock. 'C'mon son, open the gate. You boys can leave, we will do the rest,' Mama said. 'Mama, I want to talk to you. Just you,' Omi said in a sympathetic voice. 'Sure, open the gate son,' Mama said. I went forward and opened the gate. I raised my hand to calm the crowd. I had to appear confident. 'Move back. Mama wants to talk to his other son,' I said. Omi took Mama to the side and hugged him. Mama consoled him. I lookedthrough the crowd to see any influential person. A man with a turban had sixmen behind him. He wore a gold chain. 'Please, don't ask. Consider it an offering. And keep it quiet as I don't have Mama left Omi and came to me. 'What's going on here?' Mama said. He did not notice forty people turning to thirty in his drunk state. 'Mama think again. You have a future in the party. Parekh-ji will not approve of 'Yes, Parekh-ji, I am well. Don't worry, I will grieve later. Right now it is war time. Oh and someone thinks you are not happy with me ... here talk ... yes 'What? The train burning, isn't it?' 'Not that Parekh-ji, they want to kill a boy' 'So what can I do?' he said. 'Stop them.' 'Our job is to listen to people and do what they tell us. Not the other way 'Doesn't matter. Whatever it takes to quench the hurt feelings. People in pain want to feel better. Unfortunately, today I can't think of a better way.' 'This is a horrible way,' I said. 'This will last a day or two, but if we stifle it, it could explode into a huge civil war.' 'Your party will be blamed for it,' I said, trying to appeal to their self-interest. 'By who? A few pseudos? Not the people of Gujarat. We are making people feel better. They will elect us again and again. You wait and see.'
    • 'Sir, this boy. He could be in the national team someday.' Mama snatched the phone from me. 'Don't worry Parekh-ji, I'll take care of all this. You will be proud of me tomorrow,' Mama said and hung up. I looked around for another mini-leader in the pack. I walked up to him and took him aside. 'No, no you heard me wrong, what are you mad or something?' I said and moved back towards the bank. 'What's going on Omi? Get the boy here,' Mama screamed. Omi knocked on the main entrance. Ish opened it after confirming the person. Both of them disappeared inside. I stood alone with the rioters. They suspected me of offering bribes. I wanted to I offered to check inside as Mama asked twice. I went to the door and knocked. Ish opened it for a nanosecond and I slipped inside. I let out the loudest sigh ever. Ish bolted the door and blocked it with the sofa from the waiting lounge. 'They are waiting. If one of us doesn't show up in two minutes, they will attack,' Twenty Ish, I want to talk to you,' I said. 'We don't have time,' Ish said. 'Omi!' Mama's scream came through the main door. 'Coming Mama. Give us five minutes,' Omi 'I know. But I also know what will happen if we fight thirty people. We will all die. They will get Ali and kill him too,' I said. 'So what are you trying to say,' Ish said and stood up. 'Giving up three lives to possibly save one. Can you show me the maths in 'I'm not giving him up. You want to run away. Open the door and run. Omi,
    • you are welcome to go too,' Ish said. 'I am not going. But how do we fight them Ish?' Omi said. 'It's heavy,' I said. 'Twenty litres each. That's heavy for sure,' Ish said as we reached the roof. Fires dotted the neighbourhood skyline. The weather didn't feel as cold as a February night should be. 'We are coming!' Mama said as his group pushed the rusted metal gate of the Ish kept Mama engaged. 'Mama, I was born without fear. See,' Ish said and climbed on the roof ledge. Ish struck Siva's poses on the ledge. A few drunk members of the mob even bowed to him. Perhaps Siva had come down tonight to bless the rioters. 'One, two, three and go,' I whispered as Omi and I upturned the buckets. We threw the oil forward to keep it away from the bank building. 'How many ran away?' Ish said. 'Quite a few. There's panic downstairs.' The remaining people started jabbing trishuls on the main door. I popped my body up to count the people. I estimated 'Ish, we are hurting people. Some of them may die. We threw a lot of kerosene,' I said. 'I don't care,' Ish said, 'we have to hurt some more.' We came down to the first floor. Ish unlocked the branch manager's office door 'Ali, you will be fine if you listen to me. Will you listen to me?' Ish said. Ali nodded. 'There? It's so dark?' Ali said. 'Here, take my phone. Keep the light on. I will be back soon,' Ish said and gave him his cell-phone.
    • Ish put Ali in the safe. He gave him a few pillows. Ali switched on the phone We left Ali in the vault and ran to the kitchen. The jabs at the main door continued. I estimated we had five more minutes before the door gave away. Ish unplugged the LPG cylinder. 'Carry this to the main door,' Ish said. Omi and I carried the LPG cylinder. We kept it under the sofa blocking the Ish came back with boxes of leftover Diwali crackers. We usually burst them when India won a match. Ish emptied a box of bombs on the cylinder. He took two bombs and opened the fuse to make it last longer. The crowd banged at the door. One main door bolt became loose. 'I open, you light and all run up. Clear?' Ish said to Omi. Omi nodded. Ish climbed on the sofa and tried to get hold of the bolt. It vibrated under the impact of the mob's jabs. 'Run,' Ish said as he jumped off the sofa. We ran up the stairs. I was four steps away from the top when the door came loose. 'Mother fuckers we won't leave you. Killing your own people,' the mini-leader I had tried to bribe opened the door. Him and three more men entered the room. 'Hey stop,' they shouted at me as I continued to climb. I looked behind, eight men had entered the bank. 'All gone?' Ish said. Twenty One Traitors, you bastards,' Mama screamed. I noticed his left hand. It bled and the kerosene had burnt part of his kurta's left sleeve. 'Catch them,' Mama shouted. He and five other men ran up the stairs. Ish, Omi and I ran into the branch manager's office and shut the door.
    • 'Open or we will break it,' Mama said, even though they didn't bang the door. They continued to threaten us but didn't act. Perhaps they were afraid of what we Ish hung up the phone and shook it in frustration. Beep Beep, my phone said as a message arrived. 'It's an SMS,' Ish said as he opened it. I came close to a cardiac arrest. Ish looked at me. He cut the line and kept the phone in his pocket. For a moment we forgot that we had murderers at our door. Ish stepped forward towards me as I backtracked until I reached the wall. 'What the hell are you doing?' Omi said even though he understood the situation well. 'Nothing, selfish bastard. He is a snake. He'll sell us if he could, Fucking businessman,' Ish said and kicked me in the shins. 'Hey Ish, you want to get killed?' Omi said. 'Fuck you Mama, come in if you have the guts,' Ish shouted and walked up to the door. Omi lent me a hand. I stood up and leaned on him. I wondered if my intestines had burst. 'I told you. Protocol,' Omi said. Mama's patience ran out after five minutes. He ordered his minions to break few more jabs and it would open. 'I'll let them in anyway,' Omi said and released the bolt. 'You want to kill me? Mama, go on, kill me. Why wait,' Omi said and opened The third man hit Ish on the neck with the blunt end of the trishul. Ish fell forward. The man took Ish captive and pushed him against the wall. 'Buffalo, you can't get free now,' the man said.
    • Mama sat on the branch manager's table and looked at us. 'I want blood. Give me the boy, or it will be yours,' Mama said. He took out his hip flask and had a big sip of whisky. 'There is no boy here,' Ish said, 'as you can see.' 'You are not to be trusted, as I have seen,' Mama said. He threw the empty 'Nobody here,' they screamed as they traversed the various rooms of the bank. Their voice had pain. Something told me they'd had enough. Mama went close to Ish. He pulled Ish's hair hard. 'Tell me you bastard,' Mama said. 'He is not here,' Ish said. 'I will...,' Mama said as a phone ring interrupted him. The phone didn't belong to me or Omi. The ring didn't come from Mama and his men either. 'Open this,' Mama said as he pointed to the wheel shaped lock of the vault. We kept quiet. Ish's phone rang again. I guessed Vidya had called to explain 'So we are idiots isn't it? You don't have the keys, but how did the fucking phone end up inside? Search them.' The other men did the same to Omi and Ish. The man searching him ripped off Ish's shirt. He took a trishul and poked him in his rib cage. 'This bastard doesn't have it,' my man said and gave up his grip. He pinned me to the wall again. 'This one neither,' the man with Omi said. 'This one needs to be tamed,' the man with Ish said as he tried to take off Ish's Mama came to Ish. He jabbed the blunt end of the trishul again at his chest wound. Ish lay on the floor taking heavy breaths from his mouth. His eyes looked
    • defiant even as his body refused to cooperate. Mama twirled the key ring in his hand. 'Never looted a bank before,' Mama said, 'and what a prize today. Father and 'My Dhiraj was also a child,' Mama said and went to the vault. Ish sat on the floor. The man guarding him suffocated Ish with the trishul rod around his neck. 'Don't touch him. He is national treasure,' Ish growled. The man suffocated him the vault. 'There is the bastard,' Mama said. 'Ish bhaiya,' Ali said as his legs dangled. 'The more innocent you look now, the bigger devil you will be in ten years,' Ali tried to run out of the room. Mama opened his eyes. He ran after Ali and Mama lifted the trishul high to strike. 'Mama no,' Omi screamed in his loudest voice. Omi pushed the man blocking him. He ran between Mama and Ali. Mama screamed a chant and struck. 'Stop Mama,' Omi said. Even if Mama wanted to stop, he couldn't. The strike already had momentum. The trishul entered Omi's stomach with a dull thud. 'Mama, don't do it,' Omi said, still unaware that the trishul blades had 'Call an ambulance you dogs,' Ish screamed. Ish's captor held him super-tight. Ali put his free hand on Omi's chest. It moved up and down in an asymmetrical manner. 'Leave us you bastards,' I cried like a baby. 'You'll be fine my son, I didn't mean to,' Mama said as he brushed Omi's hair. 'He is a good boy Mama, he didn't kill your son. All Muslims are not bad,' Omi
    • said, his voice breaking as he gulped for breath. 'Love you friend,' Omi said as he looked at me, a line that could be termed cheesy if it wasn't his last. His eyes closed. 'Omi, my son, my son,' Mama tried to shake him back to life. 'What? What happened?' Ish said. He had only witnessed the drama from behind. 'See what you made me do you bastard,' Mama said, 'made me kill another son. But I am not weak. I haven't cried yet, look.' Ish ignored Mama. He went through the same numbness I did a few moments ago. He touched Omi's body again and again. 'Hold him back, next to this mother pimping businessman,' Mama said. The man brought Ali next to me and held him back with a trishul. Ish's captor had recovered from the groin attack. He woke up and ran to Ish from behind. He struck the blunt end of the trishul on Ish's head. 'Ah!' Ish said in pain as he fell down, semi-conscious. The man dragged Ish back to the wall. Ish faced Ali and me. What? I asked myself, What is he trying to say? 'Get ready you pig,' Mama said as he lifted his trishul and took five steps back. Of course, I didn't know I had made a mistake then. Ish ran to us. 'He's ok, he is ok,' I said turning to Ish. I held Ali tight within me in an embryo position. ★There were two captors left and Mama. We did not want to kill anyone. 'Stop you bastards,' the men said as we reached the end of the room. One of the men went and bolted the door.
    • Ali lifted a bat from the floor. I picked one too, though not sure if I could really Mama and Ish were still in their face off. Each had a stern gaze. Mama rotated 'You are fucking weak, you know that,' Ish said. 'I can finish you now. Thank your stars you were born in a Hindu house,' Mama said as he spat on Ish's face. Mama came to Ali. 'Oh, you want to play eh? You want to play bat ball with me,' Mama said and laughed as Ali held up his bat. Ali pranced around as he stumbled on two cricket balls kept on the floor. Mama picked one up. 'You want me to bowl? Eh? Play bat ball?' Mama said and laughed, 'one last The ball rolled to Ish. Ish sat on the floor leaning against the manager's table. His toes whooshed out blood and he couldn't get up. 'Don't come near me,' Ali said to Mama. 'Oh, I am so scared of the bat ball,' Mama said and pretended to shiver in jest. He tossed the ball in one hand and held the trishul in the other. Ish picked up the ball slowly. Ali's eyes met with Ish. Ali gave the briefest nod possible. Ish lifted the ball in his hand. The captor noticed but didn't react. Ish threw the ball towards Ali with all his strength. forehead dark and swollen. He barely moved. Nobody wanted to go close to check fear. 'C'mon move that wrist. Ali, you need that wrist, keep it alive,' Ish said. He hobbled towards the door to leave. He used a trishul as his walking stick. 'We saved him, Ish we saved him,' I said as I shook Ish's shoulders from behind.
    • Who was I?out. Epilogue The heart rate monitor beeped fast. Govind's pulse had crossed 130 beats a minute. I gave him a glass of water as his voice faltered. 'So what happened in the three years - to the shop, to Vidya, to Ali?' I asked. He turned his gaze down and played with the heart rate monitor wire attached on his chest. He swallowed a couple of times to keep his composure. I came back with two cups. Govind refused as he wasn't allowed one after a stomach wash. He didn't make eye contact. 'I need to find the Singapore Airlines phone number. I have to confirm my return trip,' I said, to change his mood. I debated whether to place my hand on Govind's hand lying pale on the covers. 'I didn't go to the shop for two months. I tried to contact Ish, but ... If I went to meet him, he'd shut the door on my face.' 'Did you speak to Vidya?' 'So did you agree?' 'Did you ever contact Vidya again? And what happened to Ali?' I realised I was asking more questions than offering support. But I had to know. 'To bring him up?' I said and took a sip from my cup. Why does hospital tea taste like Dettol? 'Ali stays in Ish's house now, so he will be brought up well anyway. But we need the money for his wrist operation. A lot of money,' Govind said.
    • 'You did your best. It was a moment's delay,' I reassured. 'How much?' 'You have the money?' 'You ok?' I said. Govind nodded. 'You know what he did? He refused to touch my money and wore cricket gloves while handing the envelope back to me. In fact, he offered me his The doctor came to Govind's ward at 7 a.m. The chemicals from the pills had been flushed out of Govind's system. 'I'd like the patient to sleep for six hours,' the doctor told me as he drew the curtains. I left the room and went out. Govind's mother sat on a bench in the corridor. She 'So many visitors? This is a hospital, not a club,' the nurse grumbled as she changed Govind's bedsheets in the evening. Govind's hospital room was bustling with people. Apart from the nurse, there were
    • 'There are better ways to attract attention,' Vidya said. 'When did you come?' Govind asked, quite forgetting the others. 'I left my marketing class halfway,' Vidya said. 'But that doesn't mean I forgive youfor not replying to me. Or for popping these pills. I never popped anything even whenI was most scared, you know when.' 'Your parents told you not to speak to me again. Ish wanted the same.' 'So?' Vidya removed her college bag from her shoulder and placed it on the bed. 'What did your heart want?' Ish stood silent, looking at Govind. Govind's mother looked shocked, probably dreading a firecracker of a daughter-in-law like Vidya someday. 'I am sorry, Ish. I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I l... loved her,' Govind said. Ish began to walk out of the room. Govind's mother went after him and pulled his arm. She placed Ish's hand on Govind's. 'You don't have to listen to parents, but I do think you should be friends again,' Govind's mother said. Ish remained silent. Govind clasped Ish's hand. Govind's mother continued: 'Life will have many setbacks. People close to you will hurt you. But you don't break it off. You don't hurt them more. You try to heal it. It is a lesson not only you, but our country needs to learn.' 'Remember the kissing chimpanzees?' Govind called after him. Ish stopped and looked back at Govind. 'Take the money for Ali. For me, it's no longer just for the money. But what the money is for. Get Ali all right, it is important to me, too.' Ish sniffed hard as he tried to resist tears. 'Can you forgive me, three times over?' Govind said. Both Govind's and Ish's eyes turned moist.
    • 'Aunty, isn't it strange that all the men in the ward are crying while the women are like, so, together?' Vidya said. Govind's mother looked horrified. Confident women make terrible daughters-inlaw. I met Govind the next morning, right before I left for the airport. Govind was due for discharge that evening. "Thanks,' he said emotionally. 'For what?' 'For dropping by. I don't know how I will ever repay you...' 'Actually, there is a way' Govind waited. 'Your story, it needs to be shared.' 'Like a book?' 'Yes, exactly a book. My third book. Will you help me?' I don't know. I only like stories with happy endings,' he said. 'You have a pretty happy ending.'
    • I don't know yet about Ali. We are going for the operation, but the success probability is not hundred per cent. Fifty-fifty is what they told us.' 'You should have faith. Probability is best left to books,' I said. He nodded. 'So I'll go back and we'll be in touch over email,' I said. 'Sure, we can work on it.But do not release the story until we know about Ali. Ok? It may mean your effortgoes to waste,' he said. 'I agree,' I said and we shook hands. I met Vidya at the hospital entrance as I left. She was wearing a green lehanga, probably her most cheerful dress, to lift Govind's spirits. She carried a bouquet. 'Nice roses,' I said. 'Law Garden has the best ones. I miss Ahmedabad, can't wait for my course to be over in six months,' she said. 'I thought you were a Bombay girl, trapped in the small city or whatever.' 'He told you everything? Like everything?' she, looked shocked. 'Pretty much.' 'Oh well, Bombay is nice, but my own is my own. Pao bhaji tastes much better in Ahmedabad.' I wanted to chat with her more, but had to leave. They had let me into their world, but I couldn't overstay.
    • Epilogue II I sat at my home computer in Singapore. My wife came to my desk at midnight. 'Can you leave this story for now? You have done what you could. He'll tell you if anything happens,' she said. 'Yes, but they are in London right now. The operation is over, Ali's doing physio exercises everyday. He could be ready for a batting test anytime.' 'You have been saying the same thing over and over since last month. Now can you please turn off the light?' I lay down and thought about them. It was day time in London. Would the doctorsagree to let him go to the cricket field for a test today? What would happen if he facesa ball after such a long gap? Will the new wrist be too delicate to play sports?Thoughts continued to swirl as I drifted off to sleep. The next morning I woke up early. I had an SMS from Govind. doc approves ali 2 play, fingers X. pls pray, v hit pitch 2mrow I went to office the next day. London is eight hours behind Singapore, and 1 checkedmy phone during my evening coffee at 4 p.m. I had no message. I left office at 8 p.m. Iwas in the taxi when my phone beeped. ish bowls 2 ali. ali moves fwd & turns. straight 6...! of 144 Leave a Comment
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